Adopt-a-Family shows someone cares at Christmas

By 
  • December 3, 2009
{mosimage}TORONTO - Mary Hatch is comfortably retired from a career in banking that saw her take on various managerial roles. Her kids are in university and starting careers. She lives in one of Toronto’s leafy old neighbourhoods where the houses sell for un-godly sums.

In the normal course of her day, or her year, Hatch’s life would never intersect with the life of a single mother who can’t afford a bath mat or towels or a microwave. In Hatch’s parish and neighbourhood mothers don’t fear Christmas because they have no chance of fulfilling Christmas wishes. In Hatch’s world standardized sheets for a crib,  a winter coat from Wal-Mart or winter boots are basics, not Christmas gifts.

But this Christmas, for the fifth year in a row, 61-year-old Hatch will make sure her life does intersect with a family whose day-to-day life is so threadbare they can’t afford basics, let alone Christmas gifts. She will wrap gifts for people she will never meet, and pray those gifts make the difference that hope makes in any life.

Hatch is one of about 450 volunteers in the Adopt-a-Family program run by the Hope for Children Foundation. Hope for Children is the charitable fundraising arm of Toronto’s Catholic Children’s Aid Society .

The Adopt-a-Family program funnels anonymous gifts to families who otherwise would have to get through Dec. 25 ignoring the bounty and generosity surrounding them.

“It’s brought back the meaning of Christmas for me,” said Hatch. “Christmas is supposed to be about the beginning of our Christian experience. It’s become a materialistic nightmare.”

Every year that she’s given gifts through the Adopt-a-Family program, Hatch has received “a beautiful thank-you note from the mother.” It’s not that she gives in order to be praised by strangers, but getting that note in March extends the spirit of Christmas into the year, said Hatch.

It costs Hope For Children about $40,000 in terms of staff time, travel and office expenses to run the Adopt-a-Family program. This year there are 850 families registered that need help. A number of workplaces, day cares and even 12 schools have signed on as donors, and many will find gifts for more than one family.

Adopt-a-Family is a modest program, and it’s not going to solve the endemic poverty of single-parent, mother-led households in Toronto, but “It’s a pretty core program,” said Hope for Children executive director Mary Bowyer.

“Our mission is to strengthen families,” she said.

Since many of the gifts are family necessities and some kind of gift exchange on Christmas morning imparts a sense of normality there’s no sense that Adopt-a-Family is a sentimental frill, Bowyer said.

The poverty that hits women raising children alone needs longer-term answers than Christmas gift exchanges, but that doesn’t mean Christmas gift exchanges aren’t necessary. Parishes need to encourage a sense of community so poor families and single parents feel included, said Hatch. Governments need to create programs  — particularly educational programs from apprenticeships to academic upgrades — that will encourage young women to believe in themselves.

“They’ve been dependent on a spouse or a spouse’s family. They lack the self-confidence to make it,” said Hatch.

“They’re frightened and they’re lonely.”

But then Christmas gifts arrive, and that means there’s somebody out there who cares.

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