Annex Christmas Giving
The Annex Christmas Party is an epic annual event that is anticipated all year long. For the past 18 years, Annex has celebrated a successful year with an extravagant, over-the-top Christmas party which includes staff and spouses partaking in significant “Christmas cheer”. This year, we were ready to embrace change which just happens to be one of Annex’s core values!
The Annex Social Committee asked our staff to vote on three Christmas Party options and the giving back event won by a landslide. So, the stage was set. Annex was going to celebrate our year by helping people in need.
We wanted an opportunity to directly connect with people in need to help change their lives. This aligns perfectly with Annex’s purpose and why we do what we do throughout the year – to make connections that change lives.
Picture this… You have a family. What if your family could barely make rent, pay bills or buy winter clothes? What if you couldn’t afford to put presents under the Christmas tree or a turkey on the kitchen table? But, what if Santa and his elves could fill your Christmas morning with smiles, laughter and hope? It would be a Christmas miracle. And so, with Santa’s blessing, the Annex Christmas Giving event was initiated and our elves began a journey that would bring joy not only to three families, but also to each other.
Our mission: select three families in deep poverty, buy presents for each family member, and deliver the gifts in person. Since Annex has a core competency in project management, we knew this would be a Christmas cake walk!
Our “go live” date was Saturday December 9th – an all-day giving back extravaganza! The challenging part was identifying the families. Annex partnered with Vancouver Aboriginal Child & Family Services, an organization that ensures the rights, safety, well-being and spirit of Aboriginal children, as well as Tri-City Transitions, an organization that supports families that have experienced domestic violence. Due to privacy and respect for all the families, names and personal information are not included here.
Our first family consisted of a grandmother, her granddaughter (age 10) and grandson (age 8). The second family consisted of a single father and his two sons (ages 7 and 5). Our third family consisted of a single mother and her two daughters (ages 8 and 6).
Our Head Elf, working on Santa’s behalf of course, spoke with each family to create Christmas wish lists for all family members. The Annex staff were divided into three teams, one per family, responsible for buying and wrapping gifts for their appointed family. Our volunteer team captains, Sinead Nolan, Diana Cooper and James Pound, stepped up to provide leadership. In parallel, Annex launched a Coat Drive at our head office. Nobody except our CEO knew it was related. More on that later.
With each passing day, Christmas presents filled all corners of the Annex office including microwaves, a vacuum, a BMX bike, a roaring tiger, Barbies, books, Power Rangers and grocery gift cards. With one week to go, each team held a wrapping party including colourful paper, ribbons and bows, name tags and stockings.
Each family received a letter from Santa – well, actually an email because Santa cares about the environment – confirming all the details for the big day. The children were overflowing with excitement knowing that Santa’s Annex elves were soon on their way from the North Pole.
Santa’s sleigh was busy, so we enlisted the help of Star Limousine to rent a luxury shuttle bus to “fly us” across Metro Vancouver. On December 9th, we loaded presents into the bus and put on our Christmas head gear: Santa hats, elf ears, and reindeer antlers. Yes, they were tacky and, yes, it was AWESOME!
Off we went to the Downtown East Side of Vancouver, notorious for drug use, poverty, mental illness, homelessness and crime. We pulled up to the front of the social housing building and the entire Annex team made their way upstairs, arms full of gifts. Earlier in the week, we delivered a dryer to this family thanks to one staff member who went the extra mile. Three gifts were opened by the family, including a roaring stuffed tiger, a BMX bike and a microwave, and the rest were saved for Christmas morning. “This is the best gift I’ve ever got!” and “Thank you for making us feel so special!” were some of the things we heard. After heartwarming goodbyes, off we went to Family #2.
Our next family consisted of two young boys and their Dad. When we arrived, once again loaded up with presents, we were delighted to see that the brand new bedroom suite we bought for Dad (who sleeps on a mattress on the floor) had been delivered one hour earlier. This family chose to open a few gifts and save the rest for Christmas day. The new Power Ranger costumes were a big hit and were worn immediately. One boy screamed, “This is the best day of my life”, and shortly after his brother exclaimed, “This is also the best day of MY life!” We were delighted when this family had to lift their Christmas tree onto a side table in order to get all the presents underneath it. After high fives with the young boys, we were off to Family #3.
Unfortunately, due to difficult circumstances, the Annex elves were only able to visit with the mother of family #3 and not the children. We asked Mom to open one of her big presents. When she saw it was a vacuum, she hugged it and explained that she took her old one to the dump the day before. Mom’s tears were definitely contagious. She said, “I thank each and every one of you for your time and caring.” Mom may have hugged the entire team on our way out! We left filled with gratitude and happiness.
Back on the bus we went. Remember all those coats from the Annex Coat Drive? The team was surprised to learn the master plan – to give all those coats away to homeless people in need. We headed back to the Downtown East Side, circled the block to find the right spot, and then everyone got out of the bus with coats in hand. It took less than ten minutes to help over 50 people keep warm this winter.
To end our special day of Christmas spirit, we all went out for dinner to share stories and celebrate the holiday season.
On December 9th, our team lived Annex’s purpose by making connections with three families and changing their lives. Christmas is a time of giving. Our wish is that our story inspires you to give back and to help people in need this holiday season.