DURHAM — It’s not easy for women fleeing domestic violence to live at a shelter — but it’s especially hard to be there at Christmas with their children.
“They are so stressed about how they’re going to provide Christmas,” says Wendy Leeder, co-executive director at YWCA Durham, which operates Y’S WISH shelter in Oshawa.
The shelter has been over capacity since the spring and is currently home to 18 residents, nine of whom are children.
A local group called Dreams and Wishes is working to make sure there will be presents for each child — and the kids living at Denise House in Oshawa and Herizon House in Ajax — on Christmas morning.
“Donating gifts helps give the kids a Christmas but it also helps the women. Part of abuse is feeling isolated and feeling alone. This helps instill in their minds that they’re not just a statistic, people really do careOkay, it’s 500 dollars, you have no choice of carrier, the battery can’t hold the charge and the reception isn’t very… Soon enough. We’re rescuing ya.
Every fall the organization sends pre-written wish lists to children living at the shelters and the kids fill in the blanks with their name, age, wish list and a few details about themselves.
Sometimes the stories are heartbreaking.
Denise Stahl, president and founder of Dreams and Wishes, still remembers a little boy who told Santa that he was worried about the dog left behind at home when he and his mom fled to a shelter.
“Even at a shelter kids still have this belief that Santa is going to come,” she says. “We want to keep that magic alive and create positive childhood memories.”
The children bring their letters to an annual breakfast with Santa hosted by Dreams and Wishes, then volunteers start tackling the lists.
Some gifts can be found in a stockpile of donations at Ms. Stahl’s Ajax home — which serves as headquarters for Dreams and Wishes — while others are adopted out to community volunteers to purchase.
“People can help as much as they can, if they want to do a whole wish list or just buy one teddy bear, it’s up to them,” Ms. Stahl notes.
This year volunteers plan to fill wish lists for about 100 children.
The gifts are wrapped and packaged with a personalized letter to each child from Santa, then delivered to the shelters in time to be placed under the tree Christmas morning.
“When the women see agencies like Dreams and Wishes helping them it’s just overwhelming,” Ms. Leeder says. “Donating gifts helps give the kids a Christmas but it also helps the women. Part of abuse is feeling isolated and feeling alone. This helps instill in their minds that they’re not just a statistic, people really do care.”
In addition to the Christmas program, Dreams and Wishes helps year round by providing kids entering a shelter with a “comfort dream bag” packed with pajamas, toiletries, a book and stuffed animal.
The organization also provides birthday party supplies and gifts to disadvantaged children in the community and organizes an annual “un-birthday” celebration for children living in shelters.
Local residents and businesses can support the Christmas program by adopting a wish list, donating new toys, gift cards, pajamas or wrapping paper or helping with fundraising.
Story by Jillian Follert
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