Christmas stocking drive aims to bring cheer to the homeless
KITCHENER — In the seven years since StuffIn Stockings first began collecting Christmas stocking items for kids in need, the volunteer-run organization has grown. And grown.
After previously including teens, adults living with disabilities and seniors to its list of recipients, this year StuffIn Stockings added the homeless and disenfranchised citizens of the community.
“It’s pretty challenging, Christmas, a depressing time of year,” said Michelle Steingart of Sanguen Health Centre, the newest recipient of Christmas stockings for its clients.
Steingart is the administrator for Sanguen, an organization that supports people living with and at risk of contracting Hepatitis C among other illnesses.
Some of Sanguen’s aid is delivered from its travelling van, which sets up in Kitchener, Waterloo, Guelph and Cambridge once a week to offer clients health care, among other services.
Van staff distribute snacks, drinks, clothing and hygiene products as well as giving referrals to community agencies and supports.
They provide tests for Hepatitis A, B, C and HIV and some sexually transmitted infections, and also offer pregnancy testing, nursing services, harm reduction supplies, and naloxone kits and overdose prevention training.
“We started two years ago and saw nine people the first time,” said Steingart. “Now we average at each stop 150 to 200 people. “It has exploded. It’s been phenomenal.” Sanguen also tried to make Christmas a bit special for its clients by giving hot chocolate, a few treats and warm clothing, but providing stockings full of goodies wasn’t possible. At least not until StuffIn Stockings came along.
Last year, StuffIn Stockings distributed 2,100 stockings through 20 charities in Waterloo Region, including the Salvation Army, Family & Children’s Services, Lutherwood and Independent Living. Sanguen, a registered charity, is the newest addition to the growing list.
Carolyn Parks is the founder and chair of StuffIn Stockings, a seasonal program that is now under the umbrella of the St. Jacobs Lions Club. Parks had asked Steingart, one of StuffIn Stockings’ volunteers whether Sanguen could use a few stockings for it clients this year.
Parks said that adding Sanguen to its roster was a natural fit “since we provide stockings to so many types of people.”
No individual should go without on any day, she said, adding that “homeless individuals certainly need basic essentials such as winter wear and hygiene items, along with treats.”
Steingart said the stockings will bring a smile to those clients who otherwise face a bleak holiday season.
Christmas is a time “when everyone is supposed to be with family, warm and cosy,” she said. “The reality is it’s just not the case.”
Last year, in a student-run initiative, four classes at JW Gerth Public School in Kitchener made Christmas cards and a few treats for Sanguen’s clients.
“There were cookies and chocolate. It was really sweet,” said Steingart.
Sanguen’s clientele is 75 per cent male, aged 25 to 35. There are a small number of families and a few new Canadians.
Sanguen plans to distribute the stockings later this month and even if there are not enough for every client, the organization will make sure everyone receives a small gift.
“I requested 50 (stockings),” she said. “We could use 300.”
“It’s overwhelming this time of year.”