Christmas is approaching, but for some families in Powell River, the festive season brings with it more difficulties than joy.
“Christmas is a tough time for many people, never mind families who are struggling financially,” says Powell River and District Christmas Cheer Committee president Geri Anderson. “Many of us can relate to what that feels like, but I am still blown away every year by the support from the community for our hamper program. It really is heartwarming.”
The Christmas Cheer Committee began providing hampers to families in need in 1948, assembling a small number of hampers in a resident’s basement. In 1984, the committee became a registered charity, and since 2000, has been providing Christmas hampers to more than 100 families in the district. Last year, 255 families received hampers through the committee.
“We aren’t the only organization in town that provides Christmas hampers, though we specifically focus on providing for families,” adds Geri. “We have four hamper sizes, depending on the number of adults in the family. For example, a single mother with two children ages three and eight would receive a two-person hamper, as we would count the eight-year-old as an adult.”
The committee assembles hampers full of dry food items such as pasta, rice, tea, crackers, canned food and cereal. The hampers also include a gift card to Save-On-Foods for a meat item like turkey or ham, age-appropriate Christmas gifts for children up to age 17, and new pajamas for children. When families come to pick up their hampers, they can browse the free table for other items, as well as a rack of donated clothing.
“It takes a lot of work by a lot of people to make this happen every year,” explains Geri. “We have a great committee of volunteers who work hard from September to December to make our hampers a reality.”
The committee begins shopping during the September case-lot sales to maximize the value for its money. The dry goods are then stored in a commercial space the committee can secure for the four months required.
“We don’t have a permanent home, so we start calling around in July to find a space we can use,” says Geri. “We were lucky to be able to get the old Movie Gallery location on Joyce Avenue and Glacier Street again this year.”
Applications for 2019 hampers closed on Saturday, December 7, which allows the committee time to evaluate how many hampers of what sizes are needed and also if they have enough age-appropriate gifts for children.
“We’ll continue to accept donations until Thursday or Friday this week,” adds Geri. “We distribute the hampers on Saturday, December 14, so that will give us time to fill in any gaps we have.”
Many people volunteer to help build the hampers, and Geri hopes those who want to give their time will consider joining the committee.
“The old saying goes: many hands make light work,” she says. “We have a great committee that works very hard, and we’d love to see new people join us with new ideas and energy. Being on the committee, you get to hear firsthand the stories of the families we are helping, and how much it means to them that someone is taking an interest in their struggles. That’s why we do it, because we know we really are making a difference in someone’s life, and that’s meaningful.”
Geri also has a message for those in the community who might be struggling.
“Don’t be too proud to ask for help when there are people out there who want to help you,” she says. “You are our neighbours and our friends, and when something happens that makes things difficult, like losing your job or separating from your partner or whatever it might be, we want to help you through it, just like you would want to help us if the shoe was on the other foot. We know it’s hard to ask for help, but we’re here for you.”
For more information on the Christmas Cheer Committee, go to pr-christmas-cheer.com or contact Geri at 604.489.9866 or email email@example.com.