The Christian Life Assembly gymnasium was transformed into a pop-up department store last Friday evening for an event that made the difference between Christmas and no Christmas for nearly 600 people.
The fifth annual Girls & Guys Night Out, organized by CLA’s Recovery Church on Dec. 16, gave hundreds of people going through addictions recovery the opportunity to shop for Christmas presents for their loved ones and themselves — and all for free.
Participants, in groups of 50, were given 15 minutes to wander through the store of new and gently used items donated by members of CLA. Each area was divided into different departments, ranging from clothing, makeup and jewelry, to household items and children’s toys.
“We were here until midnight setting up our own little version of Home Sense every night this week,” organizer Dawn Bralovich told the Times the night of the event.
“And they go in and they shop for free. They get free haircuts tonight, they get massages, there’s a $500 Willowbrook gift card that we are giving away at the end of the night. They get lavished.”
Bralovich says the majority of people who come to the event are on social assistance, and many of them are also paying for their addictions treatment with their welfare. This leaves barely any money left over at the end of the month to buy food, never mind Christmas presents for their family.
“We had a guy a couple of years ago in his 50s who had never been given a Christmas gift before,” she said.
“We’ve had guys come in and just bawl and say, ‘I had no clue how I was going to get my kids stuff for Christmas. I’m trying to get my life on track, I’m trying so hard to get clean and I had no clue how I was going to get my kid a toy.’ And they walk out of here with brand new Lego and it’s like you’ve given them the moon. And it’s such a simple thing to do.”
Through asking members of their church to bring in at least one donation, they were able to fill an entire shipment container, three offices and one portable with goods.
“There’s 2,000 people at this church, so hundreds of them have picked up one toy and it’s made the difference between Christmas and no Christmas for a whole community of people in the Lower Mainland,” Bralovich said.
“You start looking at the joy on their faces, and if you can give that to them for one night, it’s pretty awesome.
“This is my Christmas. You know, it’s better to give than to receive. We give and give and give until it hurts, and it’s the best feeling.”
Bralovich began the event five years ago for 100 women through Recovery Church, a division of CLA that gives services to people who are going through addictions recovery. Each Sunday evening they bus people in from across the Lower Mainland to attend their services, and they provided the same free bus service for the Girls & Guys Night Out as well.
“The first two years it was for only women, just because they don’t fit in anywhere. They don’t want to come to the fancy women’s events that the church puts on, so we put on a fancy one just for them. And they come and they eat and it’s just evolved through the years,” Bralovich said.
Recovery Church was founded 10 years ago, and runs at 6 p.m. every Sunday evening at CLA, 21277 56 Ave.
“This church is really, really well known from the east end of Vancouver, all the way out to Chilliwack as far as being a church where people in addiction or people in recovery are very, very welcome,” said Jason Roberts, the CEO of Wagner Hills Farm Society and a founding member of Recovery Church.
“It’s anywhere from 150 to 250 people coming from all over Surrey, all over Langley (and) Abbotsford (for each service).”