British Columbia

Faith groups prepare hundreds of Valentine's Day care packages for women in shelters

A group of faith organizations is continuing a tradition of making hundreds of Valentine's Day care packages for women in shelters, with the pandemic altering the preparation and also increasing the importance, according to one of the organizers.

Delivery of the care packages is altered by the pandemic, but an organizer says the need is greater than ever

Several faith groups are joining forces to assemble and deliver 1,100 Valentine's Day care packages for women staying in shelters in the Lower Mainland. (World Sikh Organization of Canada)

It's a Valentine's Day tradition that goes back nearly a decade — a group of volunteers from faith organizations across Canada prepare care packages for women staying in shelters.

This year, the planning, preparation and delivery has been altered by the pandemic, but COVID-19 has also made the need greater, as women and children are more likely to find themselves confined with abusive men.

According to a national survey, gender-based violence during the height of the COVID-19 lockdown in Canada was more severe and more frequent.

Manpreet Multani of the World Sikh Organization of Canada, one of the groups behind the initiative, said 1,100 care packages will go to women at 25 shelters in B.C. this year. 

She estimates that other groups across the country will bring the national total close to 3,000 packages.

The initiative is called One Billion Rising — a name drawn from the statistic that one-third of the world's 3.5 billion women will experience physical or sexual assault in their lifetime, according to Multani. 

A child works on a Valentine's Day card to include in one of the 1,100 care packages being distributed to women at 25 shelters in the Lower Mainland. (World Sikh Organization of Canada)

Typically the contents of the care packages would be collected through a donation drive and fundraising.

This year, however, it was limited to a fundraising campaign and the items were then purchased. Previously, the packages are all assembled in a central location, but as a result of the pandemic, about 90 families picked up the supplies to put the care packages together at home.

It differs from province to province, said Multani, but in B.C., the brown gift bags are filled with essential hygiene items, including toothpaste, toothbrushes, soap, shampoo and conditioner — all items suggested by the shelters.

'There are people out there rooting for them'

The bags are adorned with kind notes, and school children make personal cards to put inside.

"The recipients can know that there are people out there rooting for them and wishing them the best in life," said Multani.

The delivery of the care packages has also been modified to ensure they're COVID-safe. The volunteers won't have a face-to-face experience with the recipients, and delivery is being made a few days early so the packages can remain isolated before they're distributed to the women staying in shelters.

This will be Multani's first year taking part in the effort. She said she wanted to get involved to help break the stigma and help women and children in tough situations.

"I'm a big advocate for women's rights, and in the Punjabi community, sometimes domestic violence can be a big issue and it's kept very hush-hush," she said.

Other groups helping to organize the care packages include Centre For Israel and Jewish Affairs, Guru Nanak's Free Kitchen, Living Interfaith Sanctuary, Local Congregations of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Worldwide Shift Disturbers.

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