Edmonton

Cancelled notices cost AISH recipients Christmas dinner

A provincial government program for severely disabled Albertans unexpectedly stopped sending out applications for free grocery store gift cards, leaving some recipients without money for a Christmas dinner.

Provincial program for severely disabled adults stops sending Christmas Bureau applications without warning

The Edmonton Christmas Bureau gives grocery gift cards to people who can't afford a holiday meal. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

Every December, Douglas Klein waits for a gift card to arrive in the mail so he can buy groceries for Christmas.

Klein applies for the card in November, using an application form sent by Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH).

The provincial government program supports adults who have long-term disabilities that limit their capacity to earn a living.

This year, without warning, AISH stopped sending the application letters.

"I just don't understand it, I really don't," Klein said.

AISH used to send the gift card applications to its recipients in Edmonton, on behalf of the Christmas Bureau charity.

The non-denominational charity offers grocery store gift cards worth $25 to $80 to low-income families in the city. The cards are funded by donations.

The letters from AISH included a pre-addressed envelope to the Christmas Bureau, which Klein would use to send in his application.

"It's not an awful lot but it's enough to celebrate with, you know?" Klein said. "You can buy all the little extras that you don't normally have the money for, like nuts and cheese. Maybe some chocolates."

Klein waited until mid-December before calling about his application this year. That's when he learned the deadline had passed.

He had planned to use the money to buy treats for the holidays, which Klein said he usually spends alone.

The 64-year-old is diagnosed with a number of health conditions, including partial deafness and clinical depression. He is unemployed and relies on monthly AISH cheques to live.

Klein receives about $1,600 a month from AISH to pay for rent, food and medication. There's rarely money left over, he said.

Without a gift card, Klein said he will eat a microwaved meal for Christmas.

'The Grinch has stolen Christmas'

Anyone who didn't apply by mail for a gift card can visit the Jerry Forbes Centre in northeast Edmonton on Dec. 22 and 23, said Darlene Kowalchuk, executive director of the Christmas Bureau.

The charity is holding walk-in hours for people in Edmonton who can't afford gifts or a holiday meal.

"For some families it's the difference between having Christmas or turning the lights off," Kowalchuk said. "It's through the generous donors of the city of Edmonton that this program is possible."

People with mobility issues can call the Christmas Bureau to organize a delivery, she said.

Klein doesn't have mobility issues but said spending nearly $7 on two bus tickets isn't worth a $25 gift card.

"It's not the Christmas Bureau's fault," Klein said. "It was a bad decision by [AISH] management.

"Hopefully next year they'll go back to the way they were doing it, but they've done it and the Grinch has stolen Christmas."

Kathy Telfer, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Community and Social Services, emphasized the province has not made cuts to AISH benefits.

"The Christmas Bureau had a major media campaign this past year advising Edmontonians of changes to how they can get their applications," Telfer wrote in an email.

Applications are available at the AISH office in Edmonton, she added.

Minister of Community and Social Services Irfan Sabir said in an emailed statement Wednesday, "I have directed my officials in the Edmonton region to explore options to fix this issue for next year so that AISH clients are aware and can access valuable community resources like the Christmas Bureau."

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