After longtime Surrey Christmas Bureau director KC Gilroy hung up her sleigh bells in June, another self-described “Christmas nut” has signed on to lead the charity.
“I have some big shoes to fill,” said new executive director Lisa Werring, who has spent much of her career in the non-profit sector, largely helping vulnerable children.
|Lisa Werring, Surrey Christmas Bureau|
Most recently, she served as executive director at Learning Buddies Network, which provided free tutoring to elementary students in the Lower Mainland. Before that, she was the Western Canada operator for Breakfast for Learning.
“So this fits right in,” she said of her new position in Surrey, a city she’s called home 27 years.
What also fits right in is her passion for Christmas.
“It couldn’t be more perfect, it combines my professional passion with my personal one. My favourite Christmas movie is It’s A Wonderful Life. I’ve been known to watch that in July if I’m feeling blue,” she laughed.
But Werring said in all seriousness, the need in Surrey is great.
“We helped just under 2,000 families last year, and that included more than 4,000 children. All of that is done with the help of about 125 volunteers that work very hard during those months at our toy depot,” she said. “Think about the impact it has on a child if they don’t have a Christmas. If it was 4,000 kids who didn’t have a Christmas? It’s astonishing to think that could happen and we’re happy to be in a position to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
Like almost every other year, the charity is scrambling to find a home for the holiday.
As former leader Gilroy always said, the group finds itself “one step ahead of the bulldozer,” often operating out of empty grocery stores, warehouses or open plan offices.
Last year, the bureau set up shot in the former Brick store across from Surrey City Hall.
“Unfortunately, that is not available to us this year so we are on the hunt, in very short order,” explained Werring.
Ideally, the bureau needs 15,000 square feet of warehouse or retail space with a loading bay and parking, and like to move in by Nov. 1, but Werring said they “could probably make do with 10,000 in a pinch, but it would be cozy.”
It’s also important to be central, said Werring, because many of their clients travel on transit.
“We were so lucky last year to have the support of Bosa, they donated the space last year so it was absolutely incredibly generous, probably the best location we’ve ever had,” she said. “It’s a blessing to see Surrey developing so well and coming along with a downtown core, but paradoxically it makes it difficult to find that kind of space. But I know we will find one.”
While it’s challenging to find a home each year, Werring said it’s equally difficult to keep up with the need in Surrey, which is great.
Historically, said Werring, the bureau’s number of clients grows about 10 per cent a year, but last year, there was a “sharp uptick” to almost 15 per cent.
“That was largely driven by an influx of families needing help that were from outside of Canada, refugee families, who were new to the area and settling here it Surrey,” she added.
But it’s all demographics, Werring noted.
“As young people who are starting families can’t afford the life in Vancouver, they’re now moving out to wonderful Surrey where it’s a bit more affordable to live.”
One of Werring’s long-term goals for the operation is to find a permanent home, like the Lower Mainland Christmas Bureau has.
“That would be ideal,” she said. “And to be able to ramp up capacity so we can meet the need.
“No family is alone. We’re here. We’re friends. And we’re going to help.”
Anyone wishing to volunteer, or can help with a space for the Christmas bureau to call home this holiday season can call 604-581-9623.
More information on the charity can be found at christmasbureau.com.