Although Salmon Arm residents are known for their generosity, this year that trait is tougher to fulfill.
Executive director Patti Thurston and her staff at the Shuswap Family Resource and Referral Society have noticed two differences this year leading up to Christmas. The need from families is greater than ever, but people who generally contribute are finding it difficult to help out.
The Family Resource Centre provides Christmas gifts for children who otherwise wouldn’t be receiving any, as well as several other year-round services. Those services include referrals to appropriate agencies, free marital and drop-in counselling, pregnancy outreach and teen pregnancy outreach, a mental health and sexual abuse counsellor and family development planning.
“The sad thing I noted when I was making all the calls to the community for the silent auction, is how many businesses are so sad and regretful. They couldn’t donate, they couldn’t donate as much, or they had closed their doors. It was a very sad week of phone calls, talking to local businesses here.”
She said, however, people are still doing what they can.
“Individuals are knitting us scarves, giving clothes – what I’ve noticed about Salmon Arm, this is a community that gives back to the community. They’re feeling very sad about not being able to do what they’ve done in the past.”
Thurston is pleased that the Jespersen Tree Farm has come onboard for the centre’s new Christmas tree campaign. People can u-pick at the farm at 438-35th St. NE, or come to the Ross Street parking lot on Dec. 8 and 9 for a cut tree. All trees will sell for $35, and a portion of each payment will go to the resource centre.
Along with fewer donations, Thurston and her staff have also noticed that the profile of people needing help has changed.
“People coming in are what we used to refer to as middle class; these are new working class families, the times are really affecting them. It’s just that they can’t seem to get from pay cheque to pay cheque. The cost of living is going up – at the grocery store, rents are going up, utlilities are going up, but wages are staying the same,” she says. “People have really been noticing the increased cost of food in grocery stores.”
Most of the families have two jobs, she says, but both parents are on minimum wage. Meanwhile, the provincial threshhold for day-care subsidies has risen, so parents are paying more for daycare. To make matters worse, some parents have two part-time jobs, which don’t qualify for benefits from their employer.
Another factor accompanying the economic crunch is stress.
“The drop-in counselling has increased dramatically. I can’t believe how many people are walking in for counselling services – that’s all volunteer and we need more funding for that. There’s depression, loss of jobs, fear of losing their homes, partners having to leave town to go to Alberta to work – it’s creating a whole new dynamic in Salmon Arm we haven’t seen before.”
Thurston took over as executive director of the society on Nov. 1. She has worked since March at the centre, and took over from Caroline Johnson, who moved to take up a position in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories.
For those who can help, tags containing information on the age and gender of a child in need of a gift are located at the Mall at Piccadilly, Centenoka Mall and The Family Resource Centre at the corner of the Trans-Canada Highway and Alexander Street. To help, residents can choose a tag and provide an unwrapped gift for a child on or before Dec. 13, along with gift wrap, ribbon, tags, batteries, and scotch tape. Gifts may be dropped off at the administration office in both malls or reception at the centre. Donations are also welcome. For more information, contact the society at 250-832-2170.