East Side families will get an early holiday gift when the Hastings-Tillicum school Innercity Community Christmas Dinner is held Thursday night for the 17th year. About 650 people were expected at the event, which happened after the Courier’s print deadline.
The sponsors’ goal was to provide an unforgettable holiday experience for the families at Hastings and Tillicum elementary schools, and to fund the Kids First program that provides supervised after school activities and healthy meals as an alternative for the kids who are most vulnerable on the East Side.
“The atmosphere in the schools is just so exciting,” Jennifer Scott, community schools coordinator of Templeton secondary school, told the Courier. “The kids are peaking with the Christmas spirit, when they see all the decorations and lights in the room.”
The dinner is fully funded by businesses from the Hastings area and Fraser Port Authority. Seabridge Marine Contractors took the lead in raising the funds for the Christmas dinner as well as the Kids First program
Over 60 volunteers and school staff gave their time to the night of the dinner to greet, host and serve dinner.
“It is the most amazing event that truly shows people’s generosity, whether through donations of money or through the donation of their time,” said Scott.
The volunteers consisted of Hastings, Tillicum and Templeton school staff, Templeton school students, Vancouver School Board staff and trustees, as well as a large number of staff from neighbourhood banks. The full turkey dinner is made by students from Templeton’s Culinary Arts program.
Hastings/Tillicum is a community made up of many cultures with more than 50 different languages spoken by families in the schools, with 44 percent of the children speaking English as a second language. The objective of the Kids First Program — which started 12 years ago — is to meet the diverse needs of inner city children during the unsupervised time between 3 to 6 p.m. through a combination of academic, social, and emotional support in a safe and nurturing environment.
“The intention of the program is to give children access to a familiar and safe place to take healthy risks, and participate in activities that will support and encourage them to take control and direct their lives in positive ways,” says the program’s website.
“Our vision of success is that each child is continually supported and allowed to engage in maximum learning and that the students’ diverse learning styles and rates are respected. The Kids First Program has proven essential to many of these children’s success.”
Scott emphasized that every penny donated directly supports the community dinner and Kids First Program to provide nutritious after school meals, and no money is used for administration fees.
Last year, all the children received a special gift from Santa Claus, and more than $12,000 was raised for the Kids First program. The program needs to increase its fundraising goal this year by another $8,000 to adequately meet all its needs.