Saskatchewan

Sask. residents step up for gift drives, causes during COVID Christmas season

Glen Elm Community School says it was overwhelmed and Children North gathered almost 3,000 items to distribute in Northern Saskatchewan.

Glen Elm Community School says it was overwhelmed

The staff at Glen Elm Community School put out the call for gifts and the community response was overwhelming, the learning resource teacher said. (Submitted by Trisha Linner)

On Friday, Trisha Linner dressed up in a Santa hat and wheeled a cart full of wrapped presents of all shapes and sizes into classrooms at Glen Elm Community School. Her 24-weeks-pregnant stomach served as her Santa belly.

"Their eyes just went huge because I just had this cart full of wrapped presents and there was lots of gasping and excitement and giggles," she said. "The kids were just amazed."

Usually at this time of year, the students would flow into the library for a Santa Store, where donated items would be sold for almost nothing to students for themselves or to give as gifts for others.

Linner, the learning resource teacher for the school, had to switch gears this year due to the pandemic. In partnership with Renatta Fry, the Grade 1/2 teacher and numerous other staff, they put out a call on social media for board games or monetary donations so that every student would get a gift.

"It was just like a roller coaster," Linner said. "We got so much support and so much attention that we were overwhelmed, I guess, in the best way possible."

Every child got something for Christmas thanks to the community and people of Regina, Linner said. (Submitted by Trisha Linner)

Initially, people were going to have five days to donate, but with Regina Public Schools moving to online learning she only had three. The community didn't let her down. There were piles of presents in the library.

"I think we're a generous province and I think it says a lot about our community as well and how much people want to help kids and just bring joy when it's kind of been an unjoyful year," Linner said. 

These kiddos don't always get a lot … this is something they can have and keep.- Trisha Linner

Something extra like a board game can mean so much to a student in a disadvantaged socioeconomic situation, as many at the school are, she said. 

"They can see that we really do care for them and we want them to have joyful things and new things in their life," Linner said. 

"These kiddos don't always get a lot … this is something they can have and keep and it's called their own."

Trisha Linner said the support was overwhelming as people stepped up to donate board games, toys or money to help. (Submitted by Trisha Linner)

Linner isn't the only one seeing people's generosity during the COVID-19 pandemic. Thanks to the community and some group and corporate sponsors, Child North is sending 3,000 gifts to children and families around Saskatchewan's north. 

"It's really exciting to see people jump on board and just be part of this really big family. And that's kind of Saskatchewan in a nutshell," said Daina Lapworth, executive director of Children North. "It's a really big family and we take care of each other."

Lapworth said the organization serves 300 families around the north. It supports children with special needs or who simply need mentorship, and has a family support program. 

Daina Lapworth said the community members and people from hours away all donated to help bring children in Saskatchewan's north gifts this year. (Submitted by Daina Lapworth)

Lapworth sad Children North has never done a toy drive before, as it is usually fundraising for other things. Then this year, the local Bargain Shop told Lapworth that Child North was picked as the toy drive charity for Christmas 2020. 

"A lot of community members went in and purchased toys to donate for us," she said. "It's pretty exciting."

The toy drive for Child North started with a local 'The Bargain! Shop' choosing Child North as their toy drive organization for Christmas 2020. (Submitted by Daina Lapworth)

Thanks to the community and financial support and help from Men of the North, the 3,000 items will be delivered on Christmas Eve to every community Children North supports, with help from the RCMP in some of the remote fly-in communities. 

"My hope is just to see smiles on people's faces,"she said. "We're close to the end of this pandemic so let's just kind of move forward and have a great Christmas." 

Gifts not just for children: Seniors being reminded they are cared about 

Some Saskatchewanians have also stepped up to help seniors. 

Santa for Seniors Southern Saskatchewan has had to shift gears. Sean Louvel said people could usually simply grab a gift tag from a tree at London Drugs and buy the items for a senior. 

However, because of the restrictions Louvel is turning to GoFundMe. 

"We are still partnering with London Drugs just in a bit of a different way. Instead of accepting gifts this year, they're accepting gift cards and then will be distributing those out to the homes," he said. "It's going back to the recreational directors in the home so that they can decide how best to spend it with the seniors this year."

In previous years, people could pick a tag off a tree and buy gifts for seniors. This year, Santa for Seniors Southern Saskatchewan is asking for monetary gifts. (CBC News)

So instead of the 2,300 gifts they normally collect in a year, the recreational directors for the homes will work to either get people gifts or use the money for social reasons, like an indoor curling rink. 

"Just remember, you know, all the seniors, all the seniors who made sacrifices for us and helped us to get to where we are now, paying it back a little bit."

We just wanted to be able to give them something special.- Erin Vaughan

A group of Regina business owners have come up with another plan to make seniors' smile. They're preparing a special holiday event for people at Qu'Appelle House. 

"They don't have the same technological skills as maybe younger people have… and they're feeling very isolated," Erin Vaughan, owner of Kinetic Auto Services, said.

Asha-Rose Bakery is preparing a holiday meal while other businesses are bringing in cards, Vaughan is donating puzzles with images of Regina and more. They are dropping off the items a week before so they can make sure the items are clean and safe for the seniors.

"We just wanted to be able to give them something special," Vaughan said. "We felt that the seniors seemed to get forgotten. And I just wanted them to be able to still experience, you know, joy like everyone else is trying to do."

CBC Saskatchewan wants to hear how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted you. Share your story with our online questionnaire.

About the Author

Heidi Atter

AP/Journalist

Heidi Atter is a journalist working in Regina. She started with CBC Saskatchewan after a successful internship and has a passion for character-driven stories. Heidi has worked as a reporter, web writer, associate producer and show director so far, and has worked in Edmonton, at the Wainwright military base, and in Adazi, Latvia. Story ideas? Email heidi.atter@cbc.ca.

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