Wish List provides help for the homeless

Local volunteers want to fulfill the Christmas wishes of Vernon’s homeless population

Local volunteers want to fulfill the Christmas wishes of Vernon’s homeless population.

The Christmas Wish List initiative began four years ago and the goal is to foster a personal connection between the community and those in need.

“We interview individuals from the homeless community and post their personal stories and Christmas wishes on a website,” said co-ordinator Alison Houweling.

“Then, people from the community can read the individual stories and decide who they want to fulfill a wish for. Not only does it safely connect people with the individual they are helping in a meaningful way, it works to reduce the stigma that is often associated with being homeless.”

Created in Vancouver in 2005, the Christmas Wish List project has spread to nearly a dozen communities throughout North America.

It is a non-profit, self-funded program run entirely by volunteer efforts, in partnership with staff at the shelters where the program is offered.

Houweling says she has witnessed some incredible dreams come true.

“One gentleman had been laid off from the mines in Vanderhoof and had made his way down to Vernon looking for work. His job search had not been successful and come the Christmas season, he found himself staying at the John Howard Society shelter, missing his family and wishing he was home,” she said.

“A compassionate person in Vernon read his story and bought him a ticket to Vanderhoof and a gift certificate to purchase Christmas gifts for his family. The look on his face, when he received this gift was priceless.”

The John Howard Society has partnered with the volunteers on this project.

“It is especially important at this time of year to remember that poverty can afflict any of us and that it is our ability to show love, respect and compassion for all mankind that makes us human,” said Kelly Fehr, manager of shelter services.

In previous years, some of the most requested Christmas wishes were winter clothing, local transit tickets, work boots and long-distance phone cards.  There have also been requests for art supplies, musical instruments and gift certificates for haircuts.

Stories and wishes are posted at www.homelesspartners.com.