Offenders get into the Christmas spirit by helping families in need

After serving four years in prison for drug and weapon offences, Jeff stepped back into the community eager for a fresh start.

After serving four years in prison for drug and weapon offences, Jeff stepped back into the community eager for a fresh start.

With a new perspective on life, he was looking for a way to give back to the community during the next six months on parole. He found that with the Adopt a Family initiative at the Salvation Army’s Community Residential Facility (CRF).

Located in downtown Victoria, the CRF has approximately 45 men on parole, including Jeff. A few have spent more than 20 Christmases behind bars, but this year they’ve all contributed in some way towards an annual holiday fundraiser — raising money to buy gifts and Christmas dinner for seven local families in need. One family is a single father with six children.

“It’s something I feel strongly about. There’s lots of families who struggle out there and I know a lot of guys in institutions also have the same struggles,” said Jeff, who did not want to publish his last name. “It’s just doing our part, being able to give back to families that are in need.”

This year marks the third year the CRF has teamed up with the Salvation Army Stan Hagen Centre for Families to help out a few families in need during the holiday season. In order to raise the funds, offenders have been collecting donations, doing bake sales, and raffling drawings and art work at silent auctions throughout the year.

Earlier this month, staff accompanied offenders shopping for gifts for the children, with each participant given a specific wish list of various toys.

Jeff went shopping for a family with four children all under the age of 10, purchasing them each a toy on their list. The offenders then spent hours wrapping and preparing the items to be donated.

“It was rewarding. It’s nice to know that the little I can do is going to affect people in a positive way,” said the 32-year-old. “Anything we can do to just try and help out and give back, it feels great.”

The idea for the initiative was sparked in 2014 when the management team of the ARC decided to forego their annual gift exchange in order to adopt a family for Christmas.

According to CRF program manager Manj Toor, the idea was also pitched to offenders, who didn’t hesitate to jump on board. In the first year, they raised about $1,500, then $2,500 the second year. This year they managed to raise $4,000 that included a donation from the minimum-security William Head Institution.

“As the new residents come in, the guys talk about it and they all jump on board,” said Toor. “The biggest thing they like about it is it’s quite specific and meaningful than just giving it to an organization. They are actually helping someone so that’s what they feel good about.”