Nearly 24,000 children in need are hoping for a gift
More and more underprivileged Quebec children are sending letters to Santa Claus in the hope of also receiving a present at the foot of the tree.
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“Last year, we brought gifts to nearly 21,000 children, this year we expect to help 3,000 more. We are still a long way from helping the 180,000 children who live below the poverty line,” says Thérèse Guillemette, co-founder of Opération Père Noël.
For 27 years, she and her husband Normand Brault have been striving to bring joy to children across Quebec.
The initiative was born when a 7-year-old girl from the group home where Mr. Brault works was in crisis. On the phone, she had explained to him that she was afraid that Santa Claus would not find her, now that she had left her house, recalls Ms. Guillemette.
» I told him [à M. Brault] to have him write a letter to Santa Claus and we will respond to his request. Finally, we started with 29 children, and there we are at 24,000, ”says the one who is nicknamed Mother Christmas.
Generosity at the rendezvous
Photo QMI Agency, Thierry Laforce
Soon, thousands of gifts will cover the space of this former supermarket in Sainte-Thérèse.
And no child will run out of toys, because every year the number of donors also increases.
“It seems that the more poverty increases, the more generosity increases. We have big donors who sometimes take hundreds of letters,” says Ms. Guillemette.
And this year, it is in the enclosure of a former supermarket in Sainte-Thérèse that their workshop is located, where the letters that are sent to Santas are sorted and where the thousands of gifts sent by donors will soon accumulate. .
When passing the Log, a dozen elves and elves were busy opening, scanning and sorting the thousands of children’s letters pouring in from youth centres, organizations, homes for women victims of violence or CLSCs from all corners of the province .
Photo QMI Agency, Thierry Laforce
Elves and elves sort and scan the letters of thousands of children to send them to their one-day Santas.
With the help of their counsellor, children from 0 to 17 years old write a letter to Santa Claus anonymously. Everyone has the right to register three gifts, the amount of which must range from $40 to $50.
“Some children ask for a good meal for their mother, others want toys for their brothers and sisters, and some just clothes,” explains Daniel Lecavalier, Santa Claus and volunteer for several years.
Santas receive a child’s letter, buy the gift and forward it, along with a card, to the elves who ensure the process remains anonymous.
« It’s really magical for the children who receive a gift from Santa Claus, » says Marie-Josée Milette, a former educator from the Montreal youth centers who has been a volunteer with Opération Père Noël for 6 years.
Little ones may not have presents
Organizations are afraid of not being able to bring a little happiness to underprivileged children on Christmas Eve by putting a gift under the tree when the demand is only increasing.
“In the past, we always gave new toys to children aged 12 and under, but this year, we don’t know if we will be able to do so. We may be forced to devote ourselves to certain ages,” asks Ann St Arnaud, director of communications for the Sun Youth organization.
Usually, the organization manages to put a gift under the tree for 4,000 to 8,000 children.
Drop in donations
But, because of inflation, the rise in the price of materials and the shortage of labour, companies have fewer and fewer surplus toys, explains Ms. St Arnaud. Result: there are fewer donations.
“Companies don’t want to waste, so they order less, have less stock and leftovers, and therefore donate less,” she adds.
And the drop in donations is also caused by the pandemic.
“It has decreased a lot because we had 400 collections in offices, but there everyone works at home, companies have closed, so we collect fewer toys”, regrets Ms. St Arnaud.
With the rise in food prices, the organization decided to first use the donations collected to put food, rather than toys, on the table of the most vulnerable families.
« It’s really a shame for the children who will see their classmates and who will have to tell them that Santa Claus hasn’t been to their house, » she says sadly, explaining that Sun Youth has not no choice to focus primarily on food donations this year.
At the Regroupement Partage, which takes care of the Magasins-Partage in 20 Montreal neighborhoods, we can clearly see that the priorities have changed.
“People just have to feed themselves. People are having difficulty providing for their basic needs,” laments Audrey Renaud, spokesperson for the Regroupement.
In Longueuil, at the Association des Paniers de Noël de Greenfield Park, we are preparing to deal with an increase in requests and we hope to be able to respond to everyone.
« We try to do the best we can for young people with brand new gifts, » said Robert Myles, vice-president of the charity.