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Help a struggling parent this Christmas

Volunteers from all sectors of the community give back to families in need by giving their time at Cornerstone Foundation's Annual Christmas Store (Photograph supplied)

Cornerstone Foundation is calling for the community to help parents who are struggling to make ends meet during the festive season.

According to a press release, the non-profit organisation has already touched the lives of more than 500 local families through its Christmas Store for the past four years.

Instead of giving people a hand out, the philosophy behind the store is to give them a hand up.

It aims to give families a real-life shopping experience, allowing them to choose from a selection of brand new toys, gifts and food items to make their holiday season brighter.

They get a 90 per cent discount from what they would normally get in stores, and walk away with pride knowing they’ve played a part in providing for their family.

Mary Samuels, the vice-president of Cornerstone Foundation, stated: “We used to give out food hampers and grocery vouchers and while there will always be a need for those types of hand outs, we wanted to find a way to give people a hand up instead.

“There are a lot of people out there who are working hard, sometimes two or three jobs, but still having a hard time getting their bills paid and needs met for their family.

“Through the Cornerstone Christmas Store, we are giving them encouragement and allowing them to keep their dignity. By helping them in this way, it empowers and inspires them to keep going and not give up.”

The scheme means parents can choose which items they want to buy for their children and determine for themselves what kind of budget they have to spend.

“If someone comes in and has $20 they can still find things to buy,” Ms Samuels said. “All of the toys and household items are brand new, but at a significantly reduced price.

“They can buy fresh produce like apples and oranges and we have non-perishable goods as well. We want to give people a shopping experience so when they come in they see a store that is decorated for Christmas and volunteers — from teenagers, to young adults and elderly people — who are there to help them shop, carry their groceries to their car or wrap their presents. There’s even a little children’s section so children have something to do while mom or dad is shopping.”

Since 2012, Ms Samuels says she has seen many people’s lives changed through their annual Christmas Store.

Many of their families are nominated by school counsellors or other helping agencies on the island. Others find out about the foundation through it’s summer camp and community outreach programmes like Chain Reaction Bermuda, a pro kindness initiative implemented in local public and private schools.

“We’ve had dads come into the Christmas Store and shop for their family and have tears in their eyes when they pay for their goods because they were able to buy so much for their money and stay within their budget,” she continued.

“It makes them feel so good to provide for their family. That’s something everyone wants to do.

“But it’s not just our guests, the volunteers also get a lot out of the event. We have teenagers and young men who do things like help people carry groceries to people’s cars or stock shelves for us.

“Last year we had a young man who came to us to get his voluntary hours for school. He worked on the Friday and got the hours he needed, but he enjoyed it so much he asked if he could come back on the Saturday. It makes people feel good they are able to bless other people, especially considering the families who come into the store are very thankful.”

The event wouldn’t be possible without help from their generous sponsors.

It takes roughly $25,000 to put on an event of this kind — with past support being offered by Butterfield & Vallis, Phoenix Stores, People’s Pharmacy and BELCO. Various corporate companies and even individual donors have also assisted with donations.

“We always try to buy Bermuda,” Ms Samuels said. “So many people say we can buy containers of toys from overseas, but it’s important to us to support local businesses and many of them offer us discounts in return.”

Any proceeds from the store support the lunch programmes at CedarBridge Academy and Berkeley Institute.

Cornerstone Foundation is looking for volunteers, as well as sponsors, to help with its fifth Christmas Store, running on Friday, December 9, and Saturday, December 10.

If you would like to get involved or know of a working parent who could use assistance e-mail msamuels@cornerstone.bm or call 296-2598. For more information on the event, visit www.cornerstonefoundation.bm.