This week, Lions Hall in Elmira looked like a satellite office of Santa’s workshop.
People were busy assembling hundreds of cardboard boxes, sorting thousands of groceries into the boxes and wrapping the presents stacked on a table running the length of the room.
Woolwich Community Services’ Christmas goodwill hamper program is run with military precision, and it takes an army of volunteers to make sure Christmas comes to less fortunate families in Woolwich.
“It’s a well-oiled machine,” said volunteer Joan Moyer. “From year to year it just seems to flow.”
Moyer looks after matching recipient families with sponsoring families. She’s been coordinating the sponsors for the past six years, but before that she was a shopper and packer and gift wrapper. She started volunteering after she retired from teaching at Park Manor Public School.
“When I had the free time, I thought ‘what better way to give back to the community?’”
She has cut back on her volunteering slightly in the past few years, making time to spend with her two grandkids, now three and five. But from the beginning of November, she spends 15 to 20 hours a week entering data into the computer and matching families. For her, this week is the culmination of all that work.
“This is my week about the goodwill program,” she said. “My family knows that this week I’m not available to them.
“It forces me to get my Christmas done prior to this goodwill week because next week there’s not enough time. Which is a good thing, because I’m a bit of a procrastinator.”
Kim Hendrick is another volunteer who sets aside a few days this week for packing hampers. She first volunteered three years ago, and she’s been back each year since.
“I always make sure I allocate time for this,” she said. “It makes you appreciate Christmas more.”
“A lot of times you see the same people come back every year. It’s nice to see familiar faces. We see them once a year and it’s at this event, so it’s nice.”
On Wednesday, Hendrick was busy packing cans and boxes into the food hampers that will go out to each family. Sorting the food, a huge task in itself, was done before she and her fellow packers arrived.
“There’s all sorts of food, and all the soup has to go in one area and all the pasta in one area. It’s amazing just to watch them organize all that.”
Gazing over tables crowded with boxes, Moyer said she has no idea how many items flow in and out of Lions Hall during the week.
“I couldn’t even begin to guess,” she said.
The Christmas hampers are the single biggest program offered by Woolwich Community Services. Every year they hand out between 120 and 130 hampers to individuals and families in need. The hampers include groceries, a turkey or ham, toys and clothing for the children and a small gift for the adults.
Organizer Kelly Christie said they have between 125 and 150 volunteers who put in 800 or 900 hours of work. For the coordinators, hamper week means 12-hour days.
Mary Haight, taking a moment to rest her tired feet, said it’s all worth it when it comes time to distribute the hampers.
“Getting to Thursday is long and tiring, but Thursday is just the most euphoric thing. You realize why you do it.”
Moyer, who greeted people at the door on Thursday, checking them off the list, said the service isn’t taken for granted by those on the receiving end.
“They’re all so glad and appreciative. I go home greatly satisfied that I’ve been able to participate in it.”