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Comox Valley students helping needy through 'very moving program'
From the Comox Valley to Victoria, students at Ḗcole Puntledge Park Elementary in Courtenay are not only filling bags to help those less-fortunate, but handing them out as well.
Students from kindergarten to Grade 7 surpassed their goal of creating 600 bags filled with donations of sockets, scarves, toiletries and more for those living in shelters and on the streets of Vancouver Island.
"It's a very moving program," explained Kevin Reimer, principal of the school, which works in conjunction with the non-profit group Everybody Deserves A Smile.
"For our kindergarden kids, it's about them making to want someone's Christmas brighter, and for our older kids in Grade 7, you can go a bit deeper and talk about the larger issue of homelessness."
Last year was the first year of the Christmas Gift Bag project, and students created 542 bags. About 300 bags were given to people in the Comox Valley, with the remainder donated to homeless individuals in Nanaimo and Victoria.
This year, Reimer said rather than just have students fill the bags, he took 10 students to Nanaimo and Victoria Monday to hand them out at two shelters.
"It was a really interesting learning experience," he noted, and added by having students hand out some of the bags, it allowed them to have another connection to each community.
Chantal Stefan, a former Puntledge student teacher and founder of EDAS, came up with the project idea.
"Chantal prepped (the students) really well. They were a bit nervous at the shelters but only for a few minutes. The anxiety only lasted for a few minutes when they saw they were just regular people," added Reimer.
"I'm so proud of the kids. They really connected with everyone. It was a really powerful moment."
Reimer credits the generosity of the community, as nearly 100 per cent of the items inside the hand-painted bags were dropped off by both parents and members of the community.
"We were flooded with donations … many people dropped off items with no connection to the school at all. One woman walked in and dropped off 200 scarves," he said.
As it is "a big part of the school's culture," Reimer added they plan on expanding the program next year.