The Surrey Christmas Bureau almost didn’t have a home this year.
Every year around the holidays, the charity helps up to 2,000 families with grocery gift cards and toys. That’s a lot of toys, and the group needs to put them somewhere.
Fortunately, at the last minute, the bureau was able to get its old digs back in the former Safeway complex at 10355 King George Blvd.
“We didn’t find out about that till mid-September, and we like to be in our headquarters by the beginning of October,” said Lisa Werring, the bureau’s executive director. “So there was a bit of a panic. But space is getting harder and harder to find here in Surrey. The development is growing at such a pace here that the kind of building that we need is increasingly difficult to find. Especially in central Surrey, which is where we really need to be.”
They moved in “in the nick of time” on Nov. 14.
The Surrey Christmas Bureau is B.C.’s largest non-denominational Christmas charity, serving about 2,000 low-income families (including over 4,500 children) each year. In 2021, the bureau provided almost $190,000 in grocery vouchers to families in need or over 21,000 meals.
Some of the money for those vouchers comes from The Province’s Empty Stocking Fund. Now in its 104th year, the ESF depends on donations from readers to help Lower Mainland charities and Christmas bureaus lending a helping over the holidays.
“The support that we get from the Empty Stocking Fund and The Province readers is fundamental,” Werring said.
The number of families seems to be growing each year, she says.
“I mean, we’re still accepting applications,” she told Postmedia News a week after moving into the new old location. “We’re at over 1,800 requests for help already, and our deadline for applications is Dec. 2. So I fully expect to see over 2,000 requests for help this year. It’s increasing year-over-year.”
The bureau was at just over 1,800 families total for 2021.
With Surrey a hub for new Canadians, the bureau sees more than its share of immigrant families in need.
“I expect to see some families from Ukraine come through this year,” she said. “I have received some calls from agencies that are working to resettle Ukrainian families.”
This year, like many organizations, the bureau is going back into in-person mode following two years of tight COVID-19 restrictions. This means drawing on the 300 or so volunteers, like Victor and Jenny Wong. The couple has been married for 50 years, and volunteering with the SCB for seven.
“Every day it’s a different scenario,” Victor said. “But it gets so busy during December that it’s mind-boggling.”
The most gratifying part of volunteering is seeing the looks on children’s faces when he hands them a toy.
“I always grab a teddy bear and give it to them,” he said. “They’ve never seen anything like it. Their parents will have to tell them, ‘Say thank you.’”
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