While many of us were just waking up Monday morning, nearly 20 volunteers and staff members were working at the Salvation Army to ensure that hundreds of local children in need receive gifts on Christmas morning.
“I love to see the looks on parents’ faces as they pick out some really wonderful toys for their kids,” said longtime volunteer, Kay Schweitzer.
“It can get a bit emotional. Everyone’s always very, very grateful.”
Each year, the organization collects hundreds of toys from donors and toy drives, which are then sorted and displayed in a pop-up toy shop at the House of Hope. Families book an appointment to shop and pick out a few items for each of their children. The Salvation Army also provides individuals and families with goodies and a hamper of food for Christmas dinner.
This year, however, instead of hampers, Tinisha Reid, co-executive director of the Vernon branch, said volunteers will distribute gift cards for Save-On Foods. The value of the cards reflects the need of the individuals/families receiving them, and range in value from $50 to $125 or more, depending on those needs.
Reid says this allows families and individuals the “dignity” of shopping for their own Christmas dinner, rather than having one put together for them.
“We are all about dignity and giving people back their dignity,”she explained.
“For a lot of people, coming in and asking for help sometimes can be a humiliating path. We don’t want anyone to feel that way.”
The concept behind Christmas toy land, she noted, is another extension of the organization’s mandate to help restore dignity to those who feel they’ve lost it. Reid said this is a common feeling when people find themselves in need of help — one she encounters often.
“I get so many people that come in and apologize for having to ask for some help. I always tell them, ‘Listen, that’s why we’re here, to help you get through. Pay your heating bill, and let us help with the food.”
These days, Reid said she, like most food banks across Canada, sees an increasing number of seniors, and a growing demographic often referred to as “the working poor.”
On average, she says food bank staff give out 100 hampers a week. At Christmas that number usually increases. Currently, she says, staff has registered more than 1,500 individuals for gift cards. She anticipates that number may still climb.
“In the month of December we’ve averaged 15 – 20 new people a week accessing the food bank,” she said. “It’s like, for each person we see come to us and get back on their feet, more people come to us because they’re struggling. It’s this constant cycle of need.”
She says the community’s generosity goes a long way toward keeping the food bank’s shelves full, but as the Salvation Army’s Christmas campaign draws to a close Reid says her biggest concern is to ensure the funds keep coming in to help sustain vital programming that supports the food bank.