CGA-BC Staff: 'Presenting' a Generous Lot
Social Committee reps (l-r) Debbie Davis, Raj Saran, Michelle Gerow and Esperanza Vargas look over the
Christmas bounty provided by CGA-BC staff.
Standing in Debbie Davis’ office in the last week before the Christmas break was a difficult performance, one that required the balance and care of a Cirque du Soleil acrobat dancing in a minefield.
“I’m sorry there’s nowhere to sit…or stand,” said CGA-BC’s Human Resources Manager. It was true, floor space was at a premium. But she needn’t have apologized. There was no room in her inn because every bit of floor, chair and table was filled with brightly packaged gifts for a family in need. There were professionally wrapped designer clothes, 20 lb bags of sugar and everything in between. Debbie’s office looked like downtown Whoville after the Grinch had that rapid heart expansion surgery and gave back all his misbegotten loot.
“We’ve taken part in the Salvation Army’s Adopt a Family for Christmas program for over 10 years, but I’ve never seen the staff be so generous,” said Debbie. “It’s really wonderful.”
This year the recipient family consists of both parents and five children who have recently immigrated from one of the most desperate and corrupt nations on earth: The Democratic Republic of the Congo.
In ways geographic and material, the Congo is worlds away from life in B.C. It is the second poorest country on earth. And although the Second Congo War officially ended in July 2003, fighting continues to this day. At its height, the war saw eight foreign armies and 25 militias fighting one another and killing and raping millions of Congolese civilians. Amnesty International says 5.4 million Congolese have died because of the war, most from disease and starvation. That makes it the worst conflict since the Second World War.
Two million refugees have fled the country since the end of the war.
Mark Touzeau, Program and Volunteer Coordinator for the Salvation Army’s Vancouver and Family Services department, said, “Our Christmas programs help more than 1,800 families. Your family is one of about 500 that are being helped through the Adopted families program this year.”
Debbie said she knew this year’s family was special when she spoke with the father.
“I asked what he wanted for himself, you know, a personal gift. He said, ‘Food for the family.’”
Could they use some new dishes? Ah, yes, dishes! We have just four plates for the seven of us, so we are always taking turns washing the plates so the next three can eat, he said.
In halting English—the family speaks Swahili and has little English—he also asked for coats for everyone. After two years in Canada, our winter weather is still a shock to the family’s system.
“The Salvation Army helps some people who have grown up here in a low-income system and been trapped in it, in a cycle of poverty for years,” said Touzeau. “We also have many people who come to us through the school system and refugee programs. Often times these families escape their home countries with nothing. Nothing at all.
“It makes the program really special when you connect with a family like this.”
It makes one wish one could have sees the family’s faces when the CGA-BC bounty was delivered on the 23rd.
Suzanne Ombogo did. She, Senior Accountant Michelle Gerow and Debbie escorted the Association’s longtime courier George Pinter to the family’s apartment in East Vancouver. Suzanne, a Student Evaluations Administrator, helped out with translation. (Although she’s originally from Kenya, Suzanne’s Swahili is a shared language of trade between most central African countries.)
“They were so happy to see us,” laughed Suzanne. “The mother, kept asking about us: ‘What is this great company? What do you do? Why are you so generous?’”
Said Debbie, “This is the first time I’ve ever gone to meet the family in person. And I’m so glad that I did. And it’s a good thing that Suzanne helped. Among the presents we brought were several gift cards.
Neither of the adults knew how gift cards worked and Suzanne spent time explaining how to redeem the cards. We also brought receipts with us from some of the stores—in case clothes don’t fit, they will be able exchange them for others that do. Suzanne also made sure they understood why we were leaving all these little receipt slips with them.”
Debbie again: “They wanted us to stay for tea. The girls, 15 and 10, were more controlled, but the little boys—seven, five, and three—were right into it, carrying boxes, laughing and wanting to open presents. We didn’t stay. We didn’t want to impose and, besides, we were on the verge of tears even before we got there….Now I understand why George says this is his Christmas highlight.”
How We Helped in 2010
CGA-BC staff have much to be thankful for this year, and have demonstrated their thanks through several charitable works and donations over the past 12 months.
Through the planning of its Social Committee, CGA-BC employees have made the following contributions in 2010:
- Raised $525 for the Canadian Cancer Society by purchasing and planting daffodils
- Wore jeans and made a $325 donation to BC Children’s Hospital for Jean’s Day
- Donated blood to Canadian Blood Services on multiple visits to the CBS clinics
- Celebrated Earth Hour and Earth Day with a photo contest and information on the top 10 action plans to help our planet
- Launched a challenge fitness event for staff
- Participated in the Vancouver Sun Run to raise money for literacy
- Six staff members attended a refresher course on CPR and Automated External Defibrillator (AED) training
- Ran for the Easter Seals 24 Hour Relay for the Kids, and helped raise $XXXX for summer camps for children with disabilities. Although just the second year that CGA-staff have run the relay, the CGA Running Team has now taken part in the event for 25 years.
- Raised $150 for the MS Society through a Halloween 50/50 draw
- Donated 10 boxes of clothing and other items to Covenant House Vancouver for its Christmas Backpack program. Each year Covenant House provides food, clothes and sanctuary to roughly 1,700 street kids aged 16-24 who have suffered emotional, physical or sexual abuse. It has counseled and comforted 14,000 youth over the past 13 years (that’s as many members and students in all of CGA-BC)
- Supported a new immigrant family of seven with clothes, food and gifts during the holidays by taking part in the Salvation Army’s Vancouver Community & Family Services Adopt a Family program. The staff of CGA-BC has taken part in the program for more than 10 years.