The Christmas holidays can be a joyous time of year, but they can also be one of the most stressful times for those barely managing to get by.
That’s why Gayle Ireland and a group of like-minded volunteers banded together in 1988 to create what would become the Westshore Christmas Hamper Fund.
“It was our way of making sure that Christmas was a time when people who were struggling could still share the holiday with the rest of us … and do it with dignity and respect,” said Ireland, president of that group and the Goldstream Food Bank.
Thanks to the generosity of people on the West Shore and the work done by volunteers, 2014 was a banner year for the hamper program, she said. “We managed to provide 673 hampers this year. That’s 673 households that had a happy Christmas because of the community’s care and generosity.”
The organizing began in September and the last hamper was delivered on New Year’s Day, Ireland said.
Aside from the volunteers at the food bank facilities below the Langford Legion, the program was helped by a host of other people and events that raised money for the hamper fund.
Among those was the Fleet Diving Unit’s annual Turkey Run, which, despite a major format change, brought in enough money to provide a turkey voucher for every household receiving a hamper.
“We also got a lot of support from local businesses,” said Paul Patrick, the hamper program’s vice-president and treasurer. “Local businesses like West Shore Towing gave us very generous donations … and Santas Anonymous sent over a whole truckload of toys.”
Those toys made it possible for parents with children to make sure their little ones had a gift under the tree come Christmas morning. “It’s especially hard on children. They don’t understand why other kids are getting presents and they have nothing. We made sure that didn’t happen,” Ireland said.
Toys were arranged on shelves and parents receiving hampers were given the opportunity to select items that best suited their children, she said.
“They know what their little one asked Santa for. I can tell you that some of those parents left here with tears in their eyes … they were just so relieved. That’s the most heartwarming thing.”
Older children weren’t forgotten, as parents were given gift cards so their teen’s Christmas was a little more special as well.
Carol Meikle, the fund’s office manager, stressed that none of this generosity would have been possible without the energy and giving spirit of the program’s volunteers.
“Those people were just amazing. They’re doing work that is pretty simple – sometimes repetitive, like packing boxes and stocking shelves – but without them we couldn’t do any of this,” she said.
With the Christmas Hamper Fund complete for another year, the Goldstream Food Bank will once again become operational.
“Unfortunately, hunger isn’t seasonal,” Patrick said. “Over Christmas people are very generous – amazingly so – and right now we have a good stock of food. But the need is so great that I know by the end of January a lot of those shelves will be empty again.”
Ireland is confident that people will come through to keep the food bank providing staples for those in need. “People on the West Shore are amazing, so generous. I know that they’ll be there for us, and we’ll be there for the people who need some help.”