News Story

The Joy of Christmas Giving

Every December, Sparky the Elf and his decked-out Reindeer Bus spend two weeks travelling throughout Metro Vancouver to collect new, unwrapped toys for children and families in need. Sparky, also known as Bishop John Strachan from the Vancouver British Columbia Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is the longtime organizer of TransLink’s highly successful, employee-led Toys for Tots holiday campaign.

The toys are donated to the Lower Mainland Christmas Bureau, local city bureaus and Canuck Place Children’s Hospice. This is a labor of love for Strachan, who has seen first-hand how toys gratefully given and received make a difference.

This year, the joy of Christmas giving brought together friends from the British Columbian stakes of Abbotsford, Surrey and Vancouver. They gathered with their toy donations at the Temple View Pavilion in Langley, British Columbia. A cheer rang out when the Reindeer Bus arrived and Santa, Mrs. Claus and Sparky stepped out to meet and take pictures with children of all ages.

The outdoor event included hot chocolate, cookies, festive lights and Christmas music. Participants formed an impromptu line to load over 850 donated toys onto the Reindeer Bus.

Strachan said, “I get emotional when I see the results of so many individual acts of kindness coming together in one place. The work is done one toy, one child and one family at a time. One person can make a big difference.”

Brody McDearmid, Abbotsford British Columbia Stake communication director and a key planner of the pavilion event, attended with his daughter, Ally. She remarked, “I have so much, but there are others who don’t have as much as me, and I can lift their spirits.” Events like this remind us of the importance of giving to others, especially at Christmastime.

Tonya Engen and Robyne Timms, British Columbia Co-ordinating Council JustServe specialists, agreed that giving is fun and has a huge impact on the community. (JustServe is a Church-sponsored website and app connecting people with volunteer opportunities.) Engen emphasized that “giving is really about love. We show our love when we give and share our gifts with the community.”

Timms pointed out that “everything is expensive right now, including necessities like gas and food. By donating new toys, we can help parents who are working so hard just to provide, and they can have a happier Christmas.”

Langley City Councillor and Pastor Leith White, who attended the event and helped load toys onto the Reindeer Bus, explained that both giving and receiving are meaningful: “Giving means you do something with no anticipation of getting anything in return. The flip side is receiving. People often have a hard time receiving. While it’s a humbling thing to be a part of, done in the right setting, it really connects the community together. When individuals have it in their hearts to give, there is an environment where people can receive.”

Participating in the Toys for Tots campaign was a first for the combined stakes of Abbotsford, Surrey and Vancouver. Their contributions helped push the total number of new toys TransLink has collected over the years to 90,000.

Simon and Karen Woodington from the Surrey British Columbia Stake said they participated in the drive because “we need this culturally, and we need every expression of good that can come of this.”

Simon continued, “There are a lot of times we want to help someone, but we cannot always be there in person, so this becomes a statement of our intent to help. When we take a moment to think of someone else, our worries diminish, and our burdens are lightened.”

Karen added, “Every little bit helps. Even a small gift might not seem like much, but to someone else, it can mean everything to their family.”

Greg Hall of the Vancouver British Columbia Stake presidency and his family summed up their feelings about giving: “Whenever we can help other people, whatever position we are in, it gives us the ‘warm fuzzies.’ It helps us become a little bit nicer and a little bit closer to God. Giving brings us joy.”

President Russell M. Nelson reminds us that “giving help to others — making a conscientious effort to care about others as much as or more than we care about ourselves — is our joy. Especially ... when it is not convenient and when it takes us out of our comfort zone. Living that second great commandment is the key to becoming a true disciple of Jesus Christ” (“The Second Great Commandment,” October 2019 general conference).

Contributed by Kristine Ashton, Vancouver British Columbia Stake Communication Director

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