Shoeboxes filled with Christmas gifts will once again be distributed to Tl’etinqox boys and girls west of Williams Lake this holiday season.
From early Oct. to mid-Dec., Rosaline Harry is in full holiday spirit as she seeks the generous support of community members to help with gift purchases for on and off-reserve children on her list.
This is the fourth year the Tl’etinqox School janitor collects gifts after being inspired to add a local twist to a national holiday favorite —Operation Christmas Child.
“We have quite a bit of our people on a low income and some kids are lucky to have Christmas presents,” Harry said.
“I thought about it for a while and then I talked about it over to my family, and I guess it was up to me if I wanted to take it on”
Harry’s first step in making Christmas 2017 one to remember was to reach out to the school’s principal to ask the students’ names, after which she would contact their parents for permission.
The idea took off from there with Tl’etinqox school, health centre and government office staff, as well as community members, agreeing to pledge at least $20 for each student on Harry’s list.
“Last year, because I had so much, I cut them off from e-transferring money,” she said.
“I told them you have to go out and buy the present and give it to me because the point is to have fun and buy Christmas presents.”
Because Harry was not employed at the school until 2018, rooms in her home where the presents would be stored for safekeeping became quickly overfilled.
In 2017, Harry delivered gifts to 57 children and youth. In 2018, the number of presents doubled with 114 students receiving a gift.
Last year was the busiest for Harry, who spent four hours Christmas Day with her daughter Cecile Alphonse delivering the gifts addressed from Santa to on-reserve Tl’etinqox boys and girls. In total, 136 on and off-reserve students had received a present.
“I thought about not going through with it this year, but I thought about the kids,” Harry said, referring to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I didn’t want to turn them down,” she added, noting she could not say no to a student who asked if there would be shoeboxes this year.
Children and youth have always held a special place in Harry’s heart.
Before working at the school, Harry was a youth worker and assisted behind the scenes with Tl’etinqox’s annual horse and bike ride to the Williams Lake Stampede.
That role was unfortunately cut short after a drunk driver on-reserve struck Harry in summer 2016.
“It still hurts me, but it doesn’t hurt me as much,” she said.
“You got to forgive and forget to move on and be happy in your life.”
Harry is also fundraising to purchase a playground for her subdivision, which has around 50 homes.
This Christmas will see a total of 85 Tl’etinqox children receiving a shoebox or gift bag.
“I love seeing the smiles on the kids’ faces,” Harry said, calling Christmas an always special day.