Collecting gifts for homeless provides hope, happiness

Christmas Bags of Hope seeks toiletries, ponchos for men and women in Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam and Maple Ridge

What started as an idea to spread goodwill during the holiday season has grown into a Tri-Cities-wide fundraiser to support vulnerable seniors and homeless people here and in Maple Ridge.

This is the fifth year Jessa Turner has been organizing the Christmas Bags of Hope with the support of a few friends. Now, the Coquitlam office worker is raising funds and collecting men’s and women’s cold-weather gear and toiletries for 140 people and marvelling at people’s generosity.

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“It’s grown not only in numbers," said Turner, noting the group is doing 140 bags this year, up from a hundred last year, and community organizations including Scouts, Guides and schools are helping. "And we’re including handmade cards, and Christmas crafts."

The success of the program — which provides bags of toiletries, healthy snacks, a $5 Tim Horton’s card, clothing and other treats to local seniors, shelter and transition residents at the homeless shelter at 3030 Gordon Ave. in Coquitlam, the Maple Ridge shelter and clients of the Bridge Shelter program operating at designated Coquitlam churches — has drawn others who want to participate, Turner said.

Still, a number of items are needed to fill the bags in time for the holidays.

For Turner, who struggled for many years with a misdiagnosed mental health condition until being properly diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and dissociative identity disorder dating back to her childhood, the charitable effort is more than a good deed it’s a gift to herself.

Seeing the delight on people’s faces when they are given a bag leaves her with a warm feeling, Turner told The Tri-City News.

“It’s about making someone feel noticed and including them in Christmas. We have heard in previous years, ‘This is the most I've gotten for Christmas in 15 years.’

“Last year, a lady asked where I got my Santa hat from so I gave it to her. She grinned from ear to ear and gave me a hug.”

What’s still needed to fill 140 bags for 100 men and 40 women are: ponchos, Chapstick, Halls, Hot Mitts, men’s medium-sized underwear, scarves, toothpaste, men’s gloves, shampoo, socks, deodorant and  conditioner.

To connect with the group, email TCbagsofhope@gmail.com.

Other ways to connect, via Facebook https://www.facebook.com/groups/487547914754425/

To contribute via Go Fund Me, visit https://www.gofundme.com/f/operationchristmasbagsofhope

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