It was snowing heavily on December 2 when two 24-passenger buses and another 30 cars set out to pick up 96 women from nine city shelters. The gargantuan task had taken many weeks of preparations, much fund-raising, and the participation of almost 150 volunteers. Finally, The River Community Church in Edmonton, Alta., was ready to welcome these guests to a special event designed just for them—Christmas with Style. Many had sought the safety of a shelter to escape abuse. Many were single moms struggling to make ends meet. For all, a professional haircut and manicure was a definite luxury.
Gordon Bertie, a member of The River who spearheaded the project, brought the idea of Christmas with Style from a former church. He attributes his passion for it to his mother, a devout Christian who always believed in giving people a “hand up.”
Stylists and aestheticians donated their services for the women to have their hair styled and their nails done at salons opened solely for this event. After that, the women were transported to the church, where volunteers personally befriended and shepherded each one through the rest of the day. Following turkey dinner and dessert, every woman was invited to choose three complete outfits from the racks of donated clothes, jewelry, and shoes on hand. Christmas photos were taken. As a parting gift, each was given a gift bag, a meal, and a basket of toys to take home. There were many tears, smiles, and hugs.
Don’t women living in shelters need more than painted nails and styled hair? “First of all,” responded The River’s pastor, Bruce Gritter, “this is a chance to bless them at Christmas. So much of what is done at Christmas is done for the children. Almost nothing is done for these women. Secondly, many of them can’t afford a makeover like this. What happens, given their circumstances, is that they struggle with low self-esteem, which leads to depression, addiction, and other things. This is a way of helping them feel good about themselves.”
Feedback from the women corroborated this. “Yesterday gave me so much more than a day off and a haircut,” said one woman. “It empowered me to keep pushing for better in my life and my children's lives and reminded me that not every person in the world is as terrible as the ones I've encountered. Sunday filled and overflowed my gratitude bank, allowing me to push past the feelings of hopelessness and hold on to my new found confidence in myself. So again thank you, thank you so very much.”