News / Edmonton

Bissell Centre brings Christmas cheer to low-income families

Festive Giveaway helps 150 families pick up gifts for their children

Jaimie Gessner stopped by the Bissell Centre Monday to pick up Christmas gifts.

Jaimie Gessner stopped by the Bissell Centre Monday to pick up Christmas gifts.

The Bissell Centre will play the role of Santa Claus for more than 150 Edmonton families living in poverty this year.

Parents came through the centre Monday to pick up Christmas gifts for their kids and useful items for themselves, as part of Bissell’s annual Festive Giveaway.

“It’s honestly an awesome thing,” said Jaimie Gessner, who looks after seven kids at home including a niece and two step children.

"This is pretty inspiring. If I didn’t have them, it would be really hard," she added.

The program started 20 years ago with a donation from Edmonton’s United churches, which still make a bulk of the donations.

Parents can pick up toys, games, books, stuffed animals, sporting goods, baby items and hygiene products.

This year, there are also gift cards for hard-to-buy-for teens.

Gessner has been coming to the Bissell Centre every Christmas since her oldest son was born, and she was able to find something for everyone on her list, from age seven months to 18 years.

“People need it so bad,” Gessner said.

Candace Blakis picked up gifts Monday for her four children, and said they are always happy and excited to have something to open on Christmas.  

“I appreciate what they do here. I came here last year too, and the year before that, and it helps out a lot,” Blakis said.

“It’s always a random selection but it’s a good selection.”

Bissell Centre spokesperson Darren Brennan said the number of families being helped is up from last year, thanks to more donors stepping forward.

But, he said, there are always more families that could need a hand.

Some who come by for gifts are living below the poverty line in stable homes, while others are in hotels or transitional housing.

“Christmas is very expensive, and just imagine if you can’t afford gifts for your children,” Brennan said.

“The need is always high. Our childcare is always full. Every day we’re always seeing families, sometimes new families, coming to the Bissell Centre. So we would love to help them all.”

The centre lets its church and corporate donors know the ages of the kids being helped, so they can tailor the gifts each year.

Parents pick up the gifts on the week leading up to Christmas and volunteers will wrap them on site.

Brennan said parents are always gracious for the help.

“You see big smiles on the parents’ faces. There was a mother here who cried instantly as soon as she was able to pick a toy for her baby,” he said. “You see people going from maybe struggling and having a stressful day, coming down here and completely uplifted.”

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