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Giving Christmas a Makeover
Single moms hardly ever have money for themselves. Community of Hope in Edmonton reaches out to bless them at Christmas.

Holiday ads may paint cozy pictures of family and presents but, for hundreds of women in Edmonton’s shelters, such ads are merely haunting reminders of poverty and pain. Single moms are hit the hardest, says Linda Demers of Catholic Social Services. “They try to stretch their money so their children can have a few presents. Most moms never spend any money on themselves.”

Eight years ago Edmonton’s non-denominational church, Community of Hope, decided to do something about this need. As Pastor Stew Carson says, the whole idea of being a church is to bring hope to the broken-hearted. And so, every year since 2000, Carson’s 100-member congregation has orchestrated A Christmas With Style. At 10 a.m. on the appointed day, guests are picked up from various Edmonton shelters, taken to salons for haircuts and styles, then over to the church where they are fed a sumptuous feast and allowed to choose as much clothing as they desire from among thousands of donated pieces. At the end of the day they’re graced with flowers.

“We give them one day of sunshine,” says 59-year-old Gordon Bertie who organizes the event. “It empowers them.”

Known as the neighbourhood crossdresser (for the thousands of donated items of clothing in his garage), Bertie dedicates three months a year to canvassing the neighbourhood for assistance. Even though it means making a dent in his own business, Bertie does it because he cares. “Some of the women have nothing,” Bertie says, emotion in his voice. “They live on the streets. The clothes on their backs are all they own. This really touches them.”

Despite being a church-run event, organizers are careful not to preach. “We just do this because we think it’s something Christ would want us to do.” Eight years in the running, A Christmas With Style has grown from helping 12 women to more than 145. Bertie says they’ve never had to turn anyone away.

“I had a group of women ask me ‘Why are you doing this?’ I said ‘Because we think you deserve it.‘ ”

Emily Wierenga is an author based in Blyth, Ontario. Her book, Save My Children, is available through Castle Quay Books.




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