A Day of Generosity for Christmas
On today’s agenda: crafts and makeup workshops, motorized games and society games, an all-important meeting with Santa Claus and his adorable elves, folk music, tourtière and homemade ketchup… We tagged along for the ride.
Julia arrives accompanied by her boyfriend, Angelo, and her mother, Nadine. The young woman easily persuaded them to join her in volunteering their time. “We’re giving a little something back to life,” says Nadine. ‘The world would be a better place if everyone did the same.” The small group has made a pledge to repeat their generous activity every year.
At the entrance to the hall, there are Christmas stockings knit by seniors from the organization Le Chez-Nous de Mercier-Est. Renée, Pierrette and Guy sell them at various holiday markets to raise funds for Christmas baskets offered to seniors in need. “We’re retired, we have plenty of time,” they exclaim, as though that goes without saying.
At an adjacent table, Cédric, 12, and his friend Félix, 13, are playing Snakes and Ladders or Tock with young children, teaching them the rules and basics as they go along.
“They had to do a day of volunteering for one of their college courses,” explains Josée, the mother of Cédric. “This was the perfect opportunity.”
Making a difference, once smile at a time
Three young girls preen, proud of their lovely Christmas dresses and the pink ribbon adorning their special-occasion hairstyles. The big sister, 5-year-old Malak, sits down to the crafts table, bearing sequins and glitter, which she’ll use to adorn the person of her choice. A 4-year-old boy with a necktie fidgets as he decorates his polar bear, excited at the prospect of a surprise from Santa.
Four boys aged 3 to 10 descend on the table, casting frequent glances at the others to ensure that their creation will impress the most.
“Our mom is going to have another baby soon,” says the youngest. “A little girl.”
More than 20 of them will eventually visit out crafts table, pleased to further embellish the collective Christmas tree or leave with their creation to add to the festive atmosphere at home. On a daily basis, their families benefit from the services offered by the Maison des familles de Mercier-Est, which welcomes children with their parents at any time.
“We want people to come, regardless of whether things are going well at home,” says Mariève Tremblay, communications officer with the Maison des familles de Mercier-Est.
A collective space is always accessible during the Maison’s opening hours. A wide variety of activities – workshops for parents or parent-child workshops, special family outings, a drop-in day care centre, a respite service, tutoring and a family camp – are offered so as to provide much-needed tools and opportunities to socialize. Social workers are also available on-site for personalized consultations with parents.
Altogether, more than 450 families benefit every year from the approach inspired by the Maison des familles motto:“Always for the children, never without the parent.” Some 47% of the families that use the Maison’s services have an annual income lower than $20,000 and 34% are single-parent families.
The clock has already struck 1 p.m. Soon it will be nap time for the youngest, who’ve exhausted themselves playing. The volunteers clear the tables, collect the confetti and rearrange the chairs. In the kitchen, Lauren and her three friends do a quick inventory of the leftover meals. They’re already planning ahead to the party that will follow in the evening.
“We’re four people fortunate enough to have grown up in exceptional families,” says Lauren. “A few hours of our respective lifetimes is nothing, and it makes a big difference for the families here.”
For proof, we look no further than the mother leaving the kitchen, all smiles, a pair of tourtières in hand and three excited children in tow. Mission accomplished.