Empty Stocking Fund: Family Services of the North Shore expands by giving away warm clothes for Christmas

The Family Services of the North Shore Christmas Bureau expanded its services by offering clothing a couple of years ago, says bureau senior manager Michele Varley

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Family Services of the North Shore Christmas Bureau wants your clothes — preferably coats, mittens, toques and other cold-weather gear.

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Along with giving out holiday gift baskets for needy families and individuals, and organizing a toy shop, the non-profit group has assembled a clothing shop in its Community Hub on the second floor of the old Sears department store in Capilano Mall.

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The organization expanded its services by offering clothing a couple of years ago, says bureau senior manager Michele Varley.

“But it’s expanded because we’ve got this new space and we’re able to lay it out like a shop. It’s been a real hit because it feels like a real shopping experience for our clients. It’s not just about getting the clothes, but about the opportunity to feel like they’re shopping in a store.”

The clothing is collected through word-of-mouth as well as local schools. The toys are sourced through toy drives. The holiday gift baskets, which include a $50 grocery card, are funded by donations, including money from the Empty Stocking Fund.

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Each year, generous readers of The Province enable the ESF to help 26 Christmas bureaus and groups in the Lower Mainland. Since 2001, the 104-year-old fund has raised over $7 million.

“Our families tell us over-and-over again how much they appreciate the support, how it has been lifesaving for them,” Varley said.

From left to right: Michele Varley, Julia Staub-French, Bev Montgomery, Navaz Daruwalla and Jill Johnston are volunteers who are putting together all the gift baskets for the North Shore Christmas Bureau.
From left to right: Michele Varley, Julia Staub-French, Bev Montgomery, Navaz Daruwalla and Jill Johnston are volunteers who are putting together all the gift baskets for the North Shore Christmas Bureau. Photo by Francis Georgian /PNG

This year, she expects the organization to service around 1,200 families, representing around 2,500 people, or about the same number as last year./

“We’ve had a lot of new applications, probably around 100. But a lot of our families have moved off the North Shore.”

Over 300 volunteers pitch in each season, and sponsors put together the gift baskets. Registrants can have the baskets delivered or can come in and pick them up.

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“A lot of our families like to come in and pick them up,” Varley said. “We put out food and try and make it feel like a Christmas party. It really is about that connection piece and that’s been heightened since the pandemic.”

Family Services of the North Shore offers services year-round, including a clothing shop in August for back-to-school items.

“We’re really hoping to have clothing that’s appropriate for the season. And we’ll probably do something in the spring again, where we offer personal hygiene packages. Shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, toothbrush, deodorant, all that stuff adds up. And we’ve seen lots of families who have had to buy one kind of soap for all their needs, but we were fortunate that a donor recently provided us with laundry soap that we were able to give to all of our families.”

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It’s easy to take things for granted, Varley notes.

“But all of this makes me appreciate what I have, that I have a roof over my head and I always have food on the table. It’s so helpful for our families to receive these donations, and they’re very appreciative and lovely. And we learn a lot from the people who come through here.”


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