Season of giving: Charity Christmas tree lots fund life-changing supports for youth in need

Aunt Leah's Place Christmas tree lot. (Submitted)

An annual fundraiser which supports youth aging out of foster care and young mothers in B.C. kicks off Thursday, as the first of three charity Christmas tree lots benefiting Aunt Leah’s Place opens in Vancouver.

The seasonal sales help support a variety of programs offered by the organization, including supportive housing, rental subsidies, employment training, a health clinic and counselling, and fresh food distribution.

Nargis, who came to Canada in 2016 as an 18-year-old after leaving Afghanistan, told CTV she became connected with Aunt Leah’s Place through a friend.

“I was nervous, scared, and also homesick,” she said as she recalled what it was like arriving in North America alone. “When I came to Canada, I had no one at all. No family.”

She said the organization helped her with housing, pursuing her education, and employment, and also made her feel like she wasn’t alone.

“I remember it was Christmastime in 2017…and I had no one to give me something,” she said, and added she signed up for a hamper through Aunt Leah’s. She remembered receiving a big box with all kinds of winter clothes inside.

“I was like super, super happy then. I was thinking, oh my God, you know, I feel like I have family in here. That was like the (most) beautiful feeling that I ever had.”

Aunt Leah’s Place executive director Sarah Stewart said their programs are designed to replicate the support of a family: providing urgent crisis response but also an ongoing continuum of support.

“We want you to thrive,” Stewart said. “Nargis is a perfect example of that. She was able to just use our program, connecting with staff, springboard off of it to secure her own housing, and she’s just thriving now and it’s wonderful to see.”

The Christmas tree sales, which have been going on for more than 25 years, help raise funds to support those much-needed programs.

“The Christmas tree lot brings in ten per cent of our overall revenue…it’s revenue that we’ve earned and we can direct it based on urgent needs that we’re seeing,” Stewart said. “It’s been a fantastic fundraiser event for us, as well as an employment opportunity for the young folks that we strive to support.”

Last year, the lots experienced record sales, raising $649,000.

Nargis is now 23 years old, and is studying business administration and accounting at Langara College. She also works for Aunt Leah’s while she continues her education, working as an administrative assistant.

She said her cousin has also since come to Canada, and she was able to introduce them to Aunt Leah’s and provide translation support.

The rest of Nargis’s family remains in Afghanistan, including her 14-year-old sister, which has been especially worrying for her since the Taliban regained control in the country in August.

“It’s a really awful situation for me and my family,” she said, and added her dreams of going back to see her family have been dashed. “Now there is no hope.”

Even though some days have been difficult, Nargis said she feels like she has a community here, through friends, her cousin, and Aunt Leah’s. She was given the organization’s Champion Award for this year.

“I remember on the very hard days that I had in my life, they helped me,” she said. “I want to be part of this amazing team that helps others to pass those days and have a happy life for themselves.”

The first of three Aunt Leah’s Christmas tree lots opens Nov. 25 in Vancouver. Lots in Burnaby and Coquitlam will open Nov. 26. There are no online sales this year. The North Vancouver lot is closed for the season.

Christmas tree lot locations and hours:

Opening Nov. 25:

Vancouver lot

St. Stephen’s United Church - 7025 Granville St.

Hours:

Mon-Wed: 10 a.m. – 8 p.m.

Thurs-Sun: 10 a.m. - 9 p.m.

Opening Nov. 26:

Burnaby lot

All Saints Anglican Church - 7405 Royal Oak Ave.

Hours:

Mon-Thurs: 1 p.m. - 8 p.m.

Fri-Sun: 10 a.m. - 8 p.m.

Coquitlam lot

Eagle Ridge United Church - 2813 Glen Dr.

Hours:

Mon-Thurs: 1 p.m. - 8 p.m.

Fri - Sun: 10 a.m. - 8 p.m.

For pricing and more information, please visit the Aunt Leah’s website