CHESTERMERE – Although the Chestermere charity group Christmas with Dignity is named after the upcoming holiday, the organization helps local residents in need year round.
Christmas with Dignity only really lived up to its name in 2007, the year it started. That holiday season, the group focused on raising money to give to local parents who were in need, so they could pay utility bills or other outstanding balances, and “have dignity by buy gifts for their kids during the holidays.”
Patty Sproule, director of Community Services in Chestermere, started Christmas with Dignity because there was nothing in the way of an assistance organization in the community besides the food bank.
“The food bank had been around for a year or so, and they really only had the ability to help with that one basic need, food, but nothing else,” she said. “Community Services was experiencing repeated instances where people were asking for help.
“We would have to refer them to Calgary agencies, but they were usually turned down because they didn’t have a city address.”
Sproule said that they realized the need was there, and figured they will try it for one year to see if the community was willing to support the charity.
“The community came together and answered in a big way, so we decided to continue,” she said.
Sproule said that their first major donation came from Indus Preschool, who had money left over from their annual dues. She said that the parents had a choice to either see the money split up and returned to them equally, or that it could be donated to Christmas with Dignity.
“The voted unanimously to donate the extra money,” she said. “That was our very first donation, it was their personal money, and it got the ball rolling for us.”
Christmas with Dignity has been helping families in the community for four years now, but the organization isn’t all about simply providing financial help. In fact, those in need of help can only ever take $750 from Christmas with Dignity, one time. Sproule said that the fund really is only a last resort, and rather than just making donations to families, they provide resources to get people back on their feet for the long term, not just temporarily.
“Angela Normand works with the individual or the family that is experiencing the difficulty,” Sproule said. “She will work with them to find a resource that can help them. That way they build networks and partnerships.
“We work on their behalf and get them some funding from other resources, so they won’t need Christmas with Dignity money. That money is only there if they come to the absolute end of the road.”
Sproule said that the main goal of Christmas with Dignity is to do a needs assessment and find out what a family really needs to get back on track for good.
“If families are coming looking for a food hamper, which is a very difficult decision for them to make, we will always ask more questions and find out what they really need,” she said. “We try to get them back on their feet.
“If they come back for another food hamper, it means we haven’t addressed the root of the problem, which was always try our best to do.”
Sproule said that they tried to change the name of the group, but because everyone kept calling it “Christmas with Dignity”, the name just stuck. The group raised around $20,000 last year, and have set a similar goal for this holiday season, which is their biggest time for fundraising.
Sproule said that the leftover funding has been in the bank to grow, and will continue to grow with the support of Chestermere.
She said, “We will be a bigger town someday with more need that what we’re seeing now, so we need to build that and be prepared for the future.”
To donate to Christmas with Dignity, visit the Community Services reception desk at Town Hall during regular business hours. There will also be donation boxes at several locations in Chestermere.
For more information, call 403-207-7060.