Ben Hall sorts items at Central Community Church that will go out to homeless and disadvantaged youth in the community, through the Cyrus Centre, the Ed Centre and other venues. (Jessica Peters/ The Progress)

Backpacks brighten Christmas for Chilliwack’s homeless youth

Local church rallies together to fill growing need at youth shelter

Not every kid is looking forward to Christmas.

Some won’t have parents to hand out presents in the morning, to carve up a turkey or stuff them full of pumpkin pie. But many of them will be lucky enough to have the Cyrus Centre over the winter. Executive Director Les Talvio, his wife, and their staff will work through the holidays to make it as merry as possible, cooking up a hearty Christmas dinner, handing out gifts, and keeping homeless youth warm and sheltered.

And they’ve got the community to thank for that. All through the year, they rely on donations from the community, including school groups, churches, youth groups, sports teams, families, businesses and individuals.

Last Wednesday, Central Community Church took the wheel and collected thousands of dollars worth of donations from its congregation. Their goal was to fill enough backpacks to fill a huge need in Chilliwack for homeless and in-crisis youth, giving them basics along with some special items for the holidays. Jayeson Wall, pastor of community life, kept busy moving backpacks from room to room as volunteers sorted piles of goods on tables in the foyer.

This week, the full backpacks were delivered to youth at the Cyrus Centre, to students in need at the Ed Centre, and to families in need throughout Chilliwack. While thousands of dollars in donations poured in at Central Community Church alone, this effort was repeated countless times over at other churches, other businesses, other schools, for Chilliwack’s many organizations.

At Central, Wall says their goal is not just to give the basic necessities of life to someone in need, but to send a message.

“We believe part of our job as a Christian organization is be supportive of our community and the people in it,” he says. “God loves all people.”

They were hoping to fill 120 backpacks, but thanks to the hard work of some of the youngest in the congregation, they collected even more items than that. The Hall family, comprising a group of young cousins and their moms, unloaded countless armloads of groceries, toiletries, gifts and gift cards onto tables for sorting.

Three of the eldest kids in the group, Chase, Sam and Abby, explain they are just starting their own foundation, The Golden Heart Foundation. And because of that, they were more than happy to give their support to their church’s backpack efforts.

“We started off with lemonade stands,” Abby said, and things grew from there.

They found creative ways to raise money among friends and family members, coming up with $500 to put toward a shopping spree for mittens, chocolate bars, noodles, and all of the other much needed items on the list provided by the church.

“Look at all the chocolate bars!” Abby said, smiling.

Their work was appreciated by Talvio and the rest of the crew at the Cyrus Centre were thankful for the donations that came their way.

“The stuff we got from Central was absolutely amazing,” he says. “It went beyond just the backpacks for youth.”

They received cleaning products, toilet paper, and bulk items that could be divided into smaller items for youth staying in the shelter. And that’s important this winter, as they’ve just received more funding to have more beds throughout the cold season, until March 31.

“The amount of stuff we got from them is going to go a long ways to help offset the costs of the basics of what we’ll be able to provide this Christmas,” he said. “We’ll be serving Christmas dinner. The staff will be here. My wife will be here, we will just try to make the day a little bright and try to create a wholesome experience for them.”

He said the youth they house often share their stories with them, and it’s hearing those stories that help keep them motivated and looking for further funding and donations.

“A boy this morning told, and he was one that was in one of the homeless camps, he said that he had the best sleep he’s had in ages,” Talvio said. “And yesterday I spoke with a girl sharing a bit of a story with me. All she’s ever wanted is a mom to love her. It’s not an unreasonable request.”

To help out the Cyrus Centre before the year end, contact Les Talvio at 604-795-5773.

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Volunteers gathered at the church to sort basic needs like shampoo, along with food, clothing and small gifts. (Jessica Peters/ The Progress)

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