At 19 months old, Lucy is a pretty advanced toddler.
She's well on her way to being potty trained, she knows some sign language, and she can speak some French. And, like many other children, she's the best part of her mom's day.
Christine Theoret is a full-time student enrolled in College Boréal's funeral director program. She lives in Sturgeon Falls, but travels back and forth to attend classes in Sudbury. Lucy is in full-time daycare, and continues to “thrive.”
A year ago, Theoret's story painted a completely different picture. Living and working in Toronto, she left the big city to flee abuse. Originally from Sturgeon Falls, she moved back to Sudbury to be closer to family.
Then she found herself the resident of a women's shelter. It was here that Theoret was put in touch with the Infant Food Bank, an organization she said helped her “dramatically” in getting back on her feet.
“It was rough,” she said.
Because the abuse happened in Toronto, Theoret said she was twice denied priority status at the women's shelter, despite have a young child. She said she was transferred to a less-secure shelter, and it was there that her baby took her first steps.
That's all in the past now, though.
“If it weren't for the Infant Food Bank, I wouldn't be where I am today,” she said. “I was a shadow of myself last year, you wouldn't really have recognized me. We had nothing.”
The Infant Food Bank is an “amazing association with an amazing group of women,” who have provided formula, diapers, wipes – all necessary things for an infant, but that Theoret couldn't really afford otherwise.
“They're also there for moral support, and there's no shortage of hugs, either,” she said.
Being able to save money in that area helped Theoret save for a vehicle, so she can travel to and from school. She moved to Sturgeon Falls for work.
Theoret is one of about 300 people who have had to rely on the Infant Food Bank every week. The organization has seen a 30-per-cent increase in people needing its services in the past year, said Jack Flietstra, past-chair and current board member of the Infant Food Bank.
The Infant Food Bank launched its All I Need for Christmas campaign Nov. 29 to help raise funds and supplies for Greater Sudbury's most vulnerable: babies and toddlers.
“A 30-per-cent increase over the past year is pretty significant,” Flietstra said. “We talk about a turnaround in the economy, and how we're out of the recession, but we're finding the low-income families aren't having that same experience. They're still struggling. A lot of people we are getting aren't necessarily on welfare; they're working families, but they're still struggling to make ends meet.”
While the Infant Food Bank accepts donations year-round, the holidays can be especially difficult for those families — hence the need for the All I Need for Christmas campaign.
“We all tend to spend more than we should at Christmas, no matter from what walk of life we come, and there's a lot of pressure to buy children gifts,” Flietstra said. “Low-income families feel that pressure even more, and of course they want buy gifts for their children, but then they're faced with the choice of buying a gift or food. If we can be there to help them out, especially at this time of year, then I think it's a real blessing for them.”
This marks the fourth year for the All I Need for Christmas campaign. Last year, the campaign collected roughly $30,000 in products, Flietstra said. About the same amount was collected in cash donations.
Since 2009, Petryna Advertising has been involved with the campaign, which has had a tremendous boost on its visibility, Flietstra said. Petryna donates six, 10-foot by 20-foot billboards that are put up across the city, as well as email blasts and project management.
“With Petryna getting on board, it has really allowed us to be able to expand our ministry,” Flietstra said. “Our shelves are being filled, but the product goes out just as quickly as it comes in.”
The campaign launch was held at M.I.C. Canadian Eatery and Whisky Pub. Staff there conducted a staff donation rally, and the management matched whatever was collected. This was handed over to the Infant Food Bank at the launch.
Current needs at the Infant Food Bank include diapers (sizes four, five and six), pull-ups (boys ans girls), baby food (eight and 12 months), cereal (eight and 12 months), Good Start or Parent's Choice formula, Mum mums and Arrowroot cookies, breast pads, baby gates and crib mattresses.
Donations can be dropped off at the Pregnancy Care Centre of Sudbury, at 417 Notre Dame Ave., at M.I.C., at the Holiday Inn Hotel at 1696 Regent St., and at numerous dry cleaner locations including Bright Spot in the Place Bonaventure Mall in Chelmsford and at 3069 Hwy. 69N in Val Caron; Uptown Cleaners at 759 Barrydowne Rd., 1769 Regent St. and 8 Lisgar St.; Starlite at 1610 Regent St.; and Sudbury Steam at 208 Walnut St., the Southridge Mall and 976 Lasalle Blvd.