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Calgary family brings joy to new Canadians at Christmas


A Calgary family's charity is helping newcomers settle and adapt to life in Canada, including some of the country's annual Christmas traditions.

Alexandra Velosa and Carlos Herrera's organization is called First Christmas Canada and it's designed to not only provide gifts and groceries to families new to the country, but it also helps them learn about Canadian Christmas traditions.

"When we came here, we actually explained Christmas to our four-year-old son," said Velosa, co-founder of First Christmas Canada.

"We told him back in Colombia, baby Jesus delivers the presents. In Canada, Santa delivers the presents and that is how we told him that it worked here."

Velosa and Herrera, her husband, arrived in Calgary from Colombia 20 years ago. They were helped by generous Calgarians and given an artificial Christmas tree that they still have today with the original ornaments.

"Usually when you come to a new country, you don't have much," said Velosa. "After we received all the love and support of people that we didn't even know, we decided once established, we will be giving back to the community and that is what we have been doing for the last 18 years."

For many of those 18 years, her son Nicolas ran the charity. But when he moved on to post-secondary school his younger sister Valerie took the reins.

At 12 years old, she's learning how much work it is to find families in need, raise funds in the community, shop, buy and wrap presents and then deliver them all in time for Christmas.

But she says it's worth it.

"I get so happy seeing all these families and seeing that they couldn't believe that they would actually have a first Christmas here," she said.

It's amazing, especially when they have little kids and they just get so happy and the parents start crying because they just can't believe (how fortunate they are)."

Last Christmas was a challenge raising funds and the family was only able to help four families.

But this year they're up to assisting eight families.

Herrera says for a family of four, depending on the age of the children, they spend anywhere from $1,500 to $2,000.

That includes Christmas decorations, presents, Christmas stockings and a Christmas feast along with a month's worth of groceries.

"The more we get, the more we can support," said Velosa. "We run just by donations, by people who trust us and believe in our program and know that the money that they are giving us is going to make a huge impact in the community."

This year, the family was surprised by Trico Homes.

Glenda Schwartz, the director of marketing, says every year at the company Christmas party, a charity is chosen to support with the proceeds of a 50/50 draw.

"We raised $3,300 for First Christmas Canada," she said.

"I love it, it's absolutely heartwarming, just wonderful and to know, this is such a grassroots program, it's great, it's to be admired and you really get the community spirit."

The Peña family arrived in Calgary from Colombia on Oct. 4.

The family of four are living in a small one-bedroom apartment in downtown Calgary.

Elkyn Peña says this year he and his wife Jackeline Bautista decided to forgo Christmas this year because they just didn't have enough money for gifts for 10-year-old Emmanuel and 16-year old Cesar.

But then they learned they were accepted into the First Christmas Canada program through the Calgary Catholic Foundation.

"Yeah, we are overwhelmed, you know we say thank you God for that gift, which is more than a gift, it's a blessing from the heaven," said Peña.

"Because we were very excited and not just because the gifts which is an enormous thing, it's also the company support that makes you feel that your family is not alone."

You can learn more about First Christmas Canada online. Top Stories

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