Santa’s helpers have been busy this month and have put in more than a few extra hours this week in preparation for the big day.
The West Shore Christmas Hamper Fund Society, which takes over the Goldstream Food Bank for the month of December, began handing out holiday hampers on Wednesday, with more targeted for delivery through next Tuesday. While many West Shore residents have contributed food – through various drives and events – many don’t know that the hampers also include gifts for recipients.
Toy room co-ordinator, Karen Birtwistle, worried earlier this week that her group wasn’t going to be able to come through for the children. “We had many empty spots,” she said. “It is really, really difficult.”
But an influx of donations on Tuesday had her feeling a little better about the daunting task in front of her and other volunteers that run the society. “We just had an abundance of donations,” she said, adding community members have really stepped up.
The society’s struggle with increasing food prices and more limited buying power also extended to the toy room. “Donations were down money-wise,” Birtwistle said, adding that less cash coming in means less to go around for the toy room.
“You don’t know from one year to the next,” she said, noting money is tight in many households.
While monetary donations were down, Birtwistle has been moved by the support community members continue to show otherwise.
Many individuals and families have come in with generous donations of toys and specially packaged stocking stuffers. Others, she noted, have contributed in different ways.
One man, having suffered a stroke, now knits and has crafted some beautiful handmade scarves for the cause.
“There are many individuals that are just amazing in this community,” she said. “It’s just wonderful.”
The Happy Valley Lodge No. 5 of the Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes also joined the ranks this year, dropping off a cheque specifically earmarked for the toy room. It was one of very few monetary donations that came in specifically for toys.
“That’s the first time they’ve gotten on board and it was by word of mouth,” Birtwistle said, noting many local groups don’t actually know the Hamper Society also collects toys for the holidays. But what really got her was the second cheque the group dropped off on Tuesday.
“When I got the call for the second cheque … I thought they needed some recognition,” she said. “They went above and beyond.”
The South Vancouver Island Rangers are also scheduled to make their yearly delivery today (Dec. 16). Along with some much-needed toys to replenish the shelves, the Rangers are also expected to be bringing a cheque for Birtwistle.
She’ll use it to fill any gaps that may be missing over the weekend before families with four or more members begin picking up their hampers on Monday and Tuesday of next week.
Other community groups she mentioned that have contributed include the Rotary Club of West Shore, the Olympic View Ladies Golf Club, the Metchosin Golf Association and Grapes to Glass Winery.
While things are now looking good for the last rounds of hampers, Birtwistle noted they’re always looking for donations. “More times than not we do accommodate, (but) we struggle with (gifts for) the older boys,” she said. Popular items such as remote control vehicles or Lego sets are well received, but are expensive to buy.
If you’d like to donate new or gently used toys still in the package, or cash before Christmas, stop by the basement at 761 Station Ave. Monday through Saturday between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m.