Christmas Shopping Experience Boosts Independence for People with Special Needs

Chaplain and respite program participants showcase Christmas presents bought for low-income children
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It’s that time of year when stores and shopping malls are filled with individuals purchasing presents for family and friends, and people with special needs want to get in on the fun.

Every Christmas season, The Salvation Army’s London Village Respite Program holds an activity night where people with physical disabilities or cognitive challenges purchase gifts, which low-income children will find under the tree on Christmas morning.

“Christmas shopping for others is something the participants love to do,” says Dean Gregory, chaplain at the Village. “Having the privilege of accompanying them on this activity night is a highlight of my holiday season.”

This year, between 20 to 25 participants, aged 20 to 50, bought clothing, games and crafts, which are sure to light up the faces of struggling children and teens on Christmas morning.

“You can’t hang out with this group of people and not love them.”

“When I see the excitement of someone with Down syndrome, or who is non-verbal, as they purchase a toy for a child in need, my cheeks hurt from smiling so much,” says Gregory.

The goal of the Respite Program is to encourage participant independence, advocate for community inclusion, foster friendships and provide positive role models.

“The weekly activity night is year-round,” says Gregory. “Respite participants enjoy activities such as bowling, local hockey games and karaoke.

“You can’t hang out with this group of people and not love them.”