Marginalized youth were the focus of St. Andrew’s College’s 10th Annual Holiday Hero drive.
All week, case workers from the York Region Children’s Aid Society (CAS) have been loading their cars with gifts stored at SAC’s Holiday Hero central; a.k.a., the Chapel basement. Case workers will deliver presents in time for Christmas to the 125 youth in care of the CAS, all of whom are between the ages of 15 to 21 and living alone with no family to rely on, usually in tiny apartments or shelters.
“Holidays aren’t a special time for them,” says Meghan MacSween, a CAS case worker. Instead of being surrounded by loved ones, these young people are figuring out how to pay their bills and manage their lives. Most came to care because of unsafe homes.
Student advisory groups selected individuals based on profiles listing age, gender, needs, and wishes. Most asked for basic necessities such as toiletries, housewares, bedding, clothing, boots, coats, gloves, and grocery cards.
“Youth buying for youth definitely helped raise awareness and understanding of those who have less,” says Melissa Tackaberry, SAC Coordinator, admitting some boys found it hard to understand how anyone could get excited over something like a laundry basket.
There were other takeaways, too. "Many students had never wrapped a gift before,” says Melissa, chuckling at the memory of their clumsy first attempts. She says there were more students wrapping than ever before. Some really got in to it, particularly the 20 to 30 borders who arrived after dinner each evening until the job was done.
The generosity and support provided by our community will fill needs and make positive memories for these young people going forward, assures Meghan with the CAS. On Monday, one case worker delivered a load of gifts to a 16-year-old girl who was so overwhelmed, she burst into tears.
In January, a CAS representative will come to the School to speak about the impact their giving has had.
Over the past 10 years, SAC’s Holiday Hero program has helped over 1,500 families and youth, accounting for more than $1.25 million in donations. Extra toiletries from this year were donated to the York Region Police for distribution to at-risk youth.
Looking to next year, Melissa is appealing to SAC families with business connections for merchandise suitable for teenagers, as well always as items always needed such as wrapping paper. While she shops year round for bargains, support from corporate partners will boost buying power.
“These are the kids that nobody thinks about,” Melissa says. Going forward, SAC’s Holiday Hero program will remain focused on helping this often overlooked but needy group.
Story by Cindy Veitch