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Cape Breton social worker aiming to help 79 families in need this Christmas

Social worker Nicole Stevenson stands among the toy donations she's collected in her free time for an Adopt-a-Family campaign she started this year due to her seeing an increased number of families in need this Christmas season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Social worker Nicole Stevenson stands among the toy donations she's collected in her free time for an Adopt-a-Family campaign she started this year due to her seeing an increased number of families in need this Christmas season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. - CONTRIBUTED
BIG BRAS D'OR, N.S. —

Nicole Stevenson has never organized her own adopt-a-family campaign before. 

The social worker with the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional Centre for Education has donated to similar campaigns in the past. But for 2020, Stevenson felt donating wouldn't be enough. 

"The need is bigger than I've ever seen before. Families have (parents who have) been laid off or they are shift workers who are not getting as many hours as they would before," said Stevenson, who works at 18 schools within the district. 

"I'm seeing a huge increase in food insecurity, anxiety around money, housing insecurity, especially around Christmas. Families are asking what can they do." 

Deciding to run an adopt-a-family campaign during her free time to collect toys and food donations for those in need, Stevenson started collecting for two families in mid-November. Quickly that grew to 50 and now, thanks to more schools contacting her about families they've identified in need, Stevenson is trying to give 79 families a Christmas they fear they won't get. 

"The need is just so great, I'm trying to help as many people as I can," Stevenson said. "I see ... kids saying they're not sure if Christmas is coming this year."

Along with toys for ages newborn to high school and gift cards for grocery orders, Stevenson has also been collecting cash donations for purchasing items that might be more expensive, like a gaming device, which often is the only item on that child's list. 

Stevenson grew up in a single-parent home and didn't realize how much her mother struggled until she was older. Now, she sees that in the families she works with and knowing some other adopt-a-family programs are full, Stevenson felt inspired to help fill in the gap.

With 58 families taken care of, Stevenson is hopeful she'll be able to collect enough toys and raise enough money to cover their wish lists of the remaining 21. 

"I just want everyone to have a safe and happy holiday because COVID is coming," she said. 

"If this brings a bit of joy during a time that's been so anxious and uncertain then I'll be happy." 

NEW FACES

Wanda Earhart at the Every Woman's Centre in Sydney said she's also seen evidence of increased need this year and they've got new families on their list. 

For more than 25 years, the Every Woman's Centre has been running their adopt-a-family campaign. In September, Earhart said they were concerned it would be difficult to get the donations needed to help all the families they usually do. However, her fears haven't come true. 

"It's been wonderful. Just amazing. We went into the program expecting it would be tough for everyone and hard to get the donations we need," Earhart said. 

"But the support has been incredible. People are coming forward to offer their help." 

There have been changes due to the pandemic, like more gift cards as some people are staying home and out of public places. Only one person can be in the building at a time and intake was by phone instead of in person. 

However, changes aside, Earhart said they're "on track" to be able to provide for the maximum number of families they can. 

"(The people donating) are giving families something to look forward to after a tumultuous year," said Earhart. 

To donate to Stevenson's adopt-a-family campaign, email her at [email protected]

To donate to the Every Woman's Centre, which will collect until the end of the month, email [email protected]

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