When you’re out checking gifts off your Christmas list this weekend, consider adding one more for a good cause.
Woolwich Community Services’ Christmas Goodwill program runs until the end of next week, and they’re accepting donations at their location in Elmira, along with Home Hardware stores in Elmira, St. Jacobs and Linwood where wish trees are set up.
The trees have stars hung on them with requested items by families who’ll be receiving the Christmas hampers. Other businesses are accepting donations for the hampers too, including the Crossroads restaurant in Elmira.
They helped 162 families last year, which included 444 people.
WCS director of community support Kelly Christie says that was a little higher than normal.
“As of 2008 numbers had gone up; 2011 was a year where we gave the most. I’d say 150 is now our new norm. The need is still there and it’s not lessening,” Christie said.
Families will receive a few gifts for the children, a gift for each of the parents, clothing, a grocery gift card and a turkey or a ham. Christie says she thinks the increase in use of the hamper program is partly due to low minimum wage and more people living on disability.
“They’re living at a very low-income level. Some people, they’re eligible to but they don’t use our food bank and our programs throughout the year. But at Christmas time they’ll ask us for assistance. That’s why I think the increase is there, too – people only use it just that one time,” Christie said.
They started collecting in the WCS office at the beginning of November, but officially kicked off the campaign in the community after Remembrance Day. They’ll be accepting donations for the program until Dec. 11 and the hampers will be put together by some 200 volunteers the week before Christmas.
“Even as a single, that $40 gift card to Foodland or Food Basics is a nice little treat. I don’t care what you buy yourself, you know, fresh meats or if you buy yourself chocolate. It’s Christmas. They’ll use that money or they’ll use that money to host a friend and it’s not cutting into their budget,” Christie said.
For some single people who receive a hamper, that will be the only Christmas gift they’ll receive. They do their best to match it up to the person’s interests.
Some of the most requested toys year after year are farm animal sets, John Deere tractors, Barbies, and Lego. Anything leftover will be put in the birthday cupboard which provides birthday gifts for parents who can’t afford it or if their child is attending a birthday party and needs a gift for the birthday boy or girl.
“Because we have this amazing community we will have stuff to fill the hampers,” Christie said.
Families who reach out for help through the Christmas hamper program are always surprised by how well the gifts match up to their child’s personality.
“They’ll come in and they’ll say I don’t know how you did it, but everything you purchased for that child suited that child,” Christie said.
When people phone in and leave their wish list, they ask them to tell them a little bit about their child so if they don’t have the specific gifts they’ve asked for they can find other appropriate gifts.
“One year the mom could not believe that for these two different children, she said ‘I would have got exactly what was given.’ And they hadn’t peeked or anything. The family decided to make it a true Christmas and be surprised along with the kids. The husband got work gloves and he was a mechanic and then they got a movie and some popcorn and they made it a family night. She said it was the best Christmas they had,” Christie said.
The program’s been ongoing for more than 30 years. She says most of their programs come from one person expressing a need for support and it growing from there.
“I always joke with people if you’re donating cash we always accept it because we pay our bills after Christmas anyhow,” Christie said with a laugh.
People living outside of Woolwich and northern Wellesley can contact WCS to find out what Christmas program operates in their area.
“People do have to ask and that’s the hardest part,” Christie said.
As with any time of year, they’re always grateful for cash donations because then they can purchase clothing for people knowing their size and style. Anyone who donates $10 or more will get a receipt.
“I always suggest that if you want to donate an article of clothing or a toy, buy something for yourself and give it away. Something that you really enjoyed as a child or something you would wear now. You can’t go wrong,” Christie said.