British Columbia

Surrey Christmas Bureau already seeing high demand as holiday season approaches

The Surrey Christmas Bureau expects to help over 2,000 Surrey families, many of them new to Canada.

Bureau helping more refugees than ever with grocery gift cards and Christmas presents for children

Executive director Lisa Werring and long-time volunteer Bev Snook help register 100 families a day. (Susana da Silva/CBC)

It's only November, but families are already lining up around the block each morning to register at the Surrey Christmas Bureau.

Inside, the shelves are bare as the group of mostly volunteers begins another holiday season. 

"We had a young woman lining up at 3:30 in the afternoon, the day before opening," said the bureau's executive director, Lisa Werring.

"We told her to go home and there was no need to need to line up that early, but that just shows you the level of need and of concern parents in need have when it comes to trying to supply Christmas for their children," she said.

The shelves at the Surrey Christmas Bureau are bare as volunteers are gearing up for a busy season. (Susana da Silva/CBC)

The bureau provides grocery gift cards and Christmas presents for children and teenagers.

Last year about 2,000 families came through the doors, including 4,000 children, and this year the numbers are expected to be even higher.

Families lined up around the bureau for a chance at an appointment to register. (Lisa Werring/Surrey Christmas Bureau)

"Year over year we generally see about a 10-per-cent increase, which kind of tracks along with the growth rate of Surrey itself, " said Werring.

"Last year we saw quite a sharp jump, about 15-per-cent jump, over the year before, and that is largely driven by a high influx of refugee families settling in Surrey."

Thirteen-year-old Syrian refugee Khaled Aldarwish came last week to register with his family, including five siblings.

He ended up staying all day to help translate for other families, and was back on Monday.

Khaled Aldarwish, a 13 year-old Syrian refugee, is a volunteer translator at the Christmas Bureau. (Susana da Silva/CBC)

"Because you are helping us and I want to help you to translate," grade 8 student Aldarwish said. "It is a little bit hard, because some words I do not know,"

But when asked if he was helping, he replied "Ya, I am helping!" with a big grin on his face.

He said he spoke very little English when he and his family arrived last year.

"A little bit like 'cat' and something like that. School is helping me a lot. At school they give me the letters and the numbers," he said. "It has helped me a lot to study English."

The bureau says it is relying on the generosity of volunteers like Khaled, as well as help from other local groups who work with refugees.

"Last year was the first year that we were really impacted by refugee settlement within Surrey, so it wasn't something we were prepared to track," Werring said. "We will be tracking that going forward just so we can better prepare and meet the needs of the community."

The bureau is in need of donations of money, toys and new and used coats and children's clothing