Annex Christmas Giving 2019
‘Tis the season for overindulgences, for parties and get togethers, for clinking glasses, and for probably spending more than we should on our loved ones. What if, this year, you did something a little different? Perhaps a new tradition of helping your local community by giving back and spreading Christmas cheer?
This is Annex’s third year of forgoing our epic Christmas party to instead help those in need. It all began in 2017 when Stacey Cerniuk, Annex’s President and CEO, attended the BCSPCA Offleashed Gala and heard an inspiring story from Kim Monteith, a dedicated volunteer with the organization. Kim spoke about Charlie’s Pet Food Bank, a community-based initiative that provides free and low-cost pet services for people who are homeless or living outdoors, as well as low-income and senior pet guardians in downtown Vancouver. She stated that for many of these people, over 7,000 visitors annually, their pet is their only source of happiness. The video about Kim and Charlie’s was impactful. Kim also spoke in person that night at the Gala and she was very emotional, as were people in the audience listening to her story. Stacey was inspired by the story and knew that Charlie’s would come back into his life again.
Two years later, the Annex team decided that Charlie’s would be the recipient of Annex’s Christmas sponsorship. Charlie’s is only open on Thursdays from 10:00am to 12:00pm so they must provide food care packages to dog and cat owners that last an entire week. The Annex team decided that we would be on-site to help the Charlie’s volunteers on Thursday, December 5, 2019 to kick off the holiday season. Working with Kim, we determined what supplies were in dire need at Charlie’s. With our date and supplies wish list confirmed, the Annex elves got to work.
At Annex, we are proud that our culture is all about collaboration, and this was no different. Our staff split into three teams to tackle the wish list sent by Charlie’s. Suzanne Izatt captained the Santa Paws team charged with getting supplies for dogs. Savannah Marshall captained the Grinchy Cats team and Brooke Da Silva captained the Charlie’s Angels team tasked with providing gifts for the pet owners. Our collaboration area, normally utilized for discussing recruiting strategies, was full of supplies for dogs, cats and humans. At first, Grinchy Cats took over with their dry and wet cat food, bags of Temptations, cat beds and cat posts, litter and litter boxes, combs and brushes, and a plethora of cat toys (some mice found their way into practical office pranks). Next, Santa Paws created a new aroma in the office with hundreds of pounds of dry dog food, plus canned food, dental bones, blankets, harnesses and leashes, toys, dog bones, poop bags and even sardine treats. Our Charlie’s Angels swooped in at the end with backpacks for the pet owners filled with a McDonald’s gift card, hand warmers, gloves, toothbrush and toothpaste, snacks and chocolates, anti-septic wipes, and other items to help them through the winter months. Annex would like to thank 4Imprint for donating the drawstring backpacks and the Amazon delivery folks for bringing hundreds of boxes to our office.
After receiving all the supplies, next was the task of separating the bulk food into one-week care packages. Every week Charlie’s sees between 100 to 150 patrons that come to the pet food bank to get their next week of pet food and supplies, so we needed to calculate how much food was needed per week for small, medium and large animals. In the end, we had over 200 bags of pet food. Teams also assembled cat scratching posts, individual treat bags, toy bags, and backpack care packages for pet owners. It was amazing to see our entire Annex team come together to help people and animals in need.
On the morning of the big event, Annex team members loaded the bus with perfect efficiency and managed to fit all the supplies, our team and our guest of honour inside. Who was our guest you ask? Christmas Snoopy joined us and we provided memorable Polaroid pictures to take home for Charlie’s customers with Snoopy and their pet.
At Charlie’s, we were greeted by Kim and the group of volunteers who help run Charlie’s every week. We unloaded the bus and helped set up stations for all the items as the pet owners like the feeling of “shopping”. Santa Paws situated themselves outside to let dog owners bring their furry friends with them to the pet food bank. Grinchy Cats were inside to assist cat owners with their needs. Charlie’s Angels divided their team between the two spots to ensure that every pet owner received their gift bag. With Christmas Snoopy’s blessing, Charlie’s opened as usual at 10:00am.
People and their pets from low-income housing, Vancouver’s downtown east side and residents of the “tent city” at Oppenheimer Park came to Charlie’s as they do every week, but this time they were met with a Christmas surprise. The line grew long, the conversations and stories were abundant, and the pets were playful and excited to mingle with everyone, including Snoopy. The people we met and talked to were so grateful. We heard many stories, too many to tell, but here are a few of our favourites.
Goldie is a Golden Retriever and a certified service dog. Her owner is a man who shys away from “the system” and chooses to come to Charlie’s for all of Goldie’s needs. Goldie is a regular and loves to get her nails trimmed by the onsite veterinary team that visits Charlie’s at the end of every month. Goldie is a beautiful dog and this man’s life line. Without her this man would succumb to his disability and without him Goldie would not have a best friend for life.
Our team heard the incredible story of a grey terrier named Lester. His owner rescued him from a harrowing situation in California. Lester had been beaten with a cane and abused repeatedly before this man took him into his home in a social housing building. Following completion of all paperwork and migration to Canada, Lester was safe and loved. It begs the question, who rescued who?
One particular cat owner, a Charlie’s regular customer, was only expecting his weekly supply of cat food. When we offered him a gift bag for his cat, he took it and instantly noticed one thing…a comb. He was brought to tears as he told us he had never had a comb for his cat before.
We met a man who owns two pit bulls, Buck and Misty. Buck had been his only pet, but then he heard stories of Misty being passed around from home to home without anyone to give her the love she needed. He eventually took Misty in, not knowing how Buck would react. The two pit bulls became instant friends. The love that his man has for his animals is incredibly genuine and heart-warming.
One of Charlie’s volunteers told us that our Christmas Snoopy not only brought joy to Charlie’s patrons, but was also important for communicating with families. He told us that some of the people we met will send their picture to family members to not only show them they were okay, but more importantly, to let their family know that they are alive. It was humbling to think that what was a fun idea for a couple of chuckles would be a way to connect loved ones desperate for an update.
At the end of our time at Charlie’s, only a minimal amount of pet food was left and everything else was “sold out”. The Annex team loaded the leftover food into the BCSPCA van for the next week’s supply. We helped sweep and mop the floors and ensured all equipment and furniture were sanitized. We said our goodbyes and thank-yous and boarded our bus. As we sat down to our team lunch at Steamworks, we all had a different perspective of how animals and people are connected and the joy they bring to each other’s lives. As George Eliot said, “Animals are such agreeable friends – they ask no questions; they pass no criticisms.” Well, except for cats … just kidding! In today’s world, maybe it is time to be more like animals.
Charlie’s Pet Food Bank is always in need of volunteers and supplies on a weekly basis. Want to make a special Christmas donation? Charlie’s is hosting their Christmas event on December 19th. You may contact Kim Monteith directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit https://spca.bc.ca/programs-services/community-work/charlies-pet-food-bank-free-vet-clinic/ for more information.
Merry Christmas from the Annex team!