Last Christmas, Tracy had wooden train set wrapped under the tree for her daughter — a gift that wouldn’t have been there if it weren’t for the West Shore Christmas Hamper Fund.
Tracy, whose last name has been withheld for privacy, is a single mother of two, and her ex doesn’t paid child support. Her family was among the 750 on West Shore to receive a Christmas hamper last year.
“I’d just moved here and was starting over from scratch,” Tracy recalled. “It meant a lot to me, being able to have a simple Christmas with my family with gifts under the tree.”
The Hamper Fund, which operates out of the West Shore Food Bank, is now in full swing and accepting donations of non-perishable food, unwrapped toys and cash.
It’s a hectic time for the Hamper Fund — with just over two weeks to collect everything it needs for the hampers, volunteers work around the clock sorting donations.
Cec Cancade, 76, co-ordinates food donations, while his sister Anna Semenowich, 89, manages the toy room. The pair have been helping out at the food bank for eight and 20 years respectively, which is long enough to know that donations always come through.
“We always come in here at the beginning of December thinking we don’t have enough, but this community is so generous — our shelves will be full by the time we start putting the hampers together,” Cancade said.
Each hamper recipient gets a box filled with all the fixings for a special holiday meal, including fresh vegetables and a grocery store gift card to pick up a turkey or ham. A hamper can be for one person or a large family and they’ll be as full as donations allow.
“We like to put in enough food for three of four days, so they have something to put in the cupboards,” Cancade explained. “Whatever we get through the door goes out in a hamper, as long as it’s not expired.”
Expired food can be given to people who sign a waiver to accept it, but it’s not included in the hampers.
Often the Hamper Fund will also receive donations of hygiene products, such as soaps and shampoo, and clothing such as socks and mittens. Those get divided up and put in the hampers as well.
Families with children under 12 also get to pick out a present from the toy room, which Semenowich is in charge of.
“We get a lot of dolls and trucks (donated), and more stuffed animals than you can imagine,” she said. “It’s nice the parents get to pick out something special for their kids, we don’t choose it for them.”
For teenage children, the food bank gives gift certificates to Walmart.
Chiristmas hampers start go out between Dec. 19 and 23, and it will take a small army of volunteers to put them all together.
“It’s a real community effort,” Cancade said. “We’re like elves in, working all night to make sure everybody gets a Christmas.”
How to donate
Donations can be dropped off at the West Shore Food Bank, 761 Station Ave, Monday to Friday between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. For more information call 250-474-4443.