As the holidays approach a Kemptville woman is helping bring some Christmas spirit to the homeless in Brockville.
With help from the community, Christina Norton, who once experienced homelessness herself, provided Christmas gift baskets and a hot lunch last Friday to people who are struggling with homelessness and financial insecurity.
"I remember when I was homeless around Christmas time how sad it is not to have anything at all for Christmas," said Norton.
She explained that four years ago she was experiencing homelessness, bouncing between living on the streets to local shelters in the area, like Leeds and Grenville Interval House. She also battled a drug addiction and had attempted suicide, but with support from her community and God, she was able to start her life again in Kemptville and reunite with her daughter.
Now she's giving back to Brockville's most vulnerable.
"Not having anything at all around Christmas time is really hard," said Norton, "especially while being homeless because you see people being happy with their families."
With the donations of essential items like personal hygiene products, socks and mittens and snacks from the community in Kemptville, 150 Christmas baskets came together. The baskets featured a handwritten card from young students and a pamphlet with different resources listed on it.
About 50 of the gift baskets were delivered to the local methadone clinic and around 40 baskets left over from the giveaway on Friday went to the Cooperative Care Centre, formerly known as the Brockville Warming Centre. During the giveaway, about 60 people attended and received a hot meal and gift basket, said Norton.
The Christmas gift baskets and meals were made available at the Wesleyan Church on Dec. 17 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. A handful of volunteers helped during the giveaway and delivered the extra food to the homeless camps and Cooperative Care Centre.
Norton said one man came in on Friday afternoon, and when they gave him one of the handmade Christmas cards, "he said that he's going to keep it forever," and when he was given a gift basket, "he was just over the moon, so happy and he said that he hopes he can give back one day like this."
For Norton, it was the little things that mattered when she was homeless. Getting a cookie or a gift meant so much for her and she used local supports but had felt like there weren't a lot of people who were aware of the homeless situation in Brockville.
She sees that changing now as the homelessness situation becomes more evident in the community.
Originally, she had planned to make a handful of gift baskets and hand them out, similar to care packages she had distributed earlier this year in October, but after talking to someone on Facebook who offered to cook some food, the idea expanded from there.
The gift baskets were accompanied by a hot Christmas lunch of a turkey dinner, desserts, juice and hot coffee. The food was supplied by local grocery stores, restaurants and the community in Brockville and was cooked by Amanda Miller.
"Everyone should get to sit down and have a hot Christmas meal," said Miller, adding that the rise of homelessness and the many tents she sees set up throughout Brockville "hurts my heart."
"The dinner went very well but it was all made possible by the community. Without them it wouldn't have been possible," said Miller.
When Norton first began collecting items for the gift baskets she used her living room as storage. With three kids running around, she eventually needed a bigger space, so Southgate Church in Kemptville offered her a room and her and her grandparents loaded everything up and took it over.
A group of youths and adults from the church helped make many of the baskets and more than 20 baskets were made by a local business in Winchester.
(Jessica Munro is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Brockville Recorder and Times. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.)
Jessica Munro, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brockville Recorder and Times