For the past week, volunteers at Lions Hall in Elmira were making their lists and checking them twice.
No, they weren’t helping Santa with his famous duties, they were organizing and packing the annual goodwill hampers for the less fortunate in the area.
The Christmas hampers are the single-biggest program offered by Woolwich Community Services. Last year the group handed out about 150 baskets to individuals and families in need in the Woolwich and Wellesley area. The hampers include groceries, a turkey or ham, toys and clothing for the children, and a small gift for the adults.
This year, WCS’ Kelly Christie expects even more hampers to go out.
“We’re up a little from last year. We’ll probably do about 155 hampers this year,” she said. “The community came through and we’ve gotten some fabulous gifts. It’s just been amazing.”
WCS couldn’t do it without an army of volunteers. Each year between 150 and 200 of them donate their time and their energy to sort presents and food, pack boxes, wrap gifts and make sure the right hampers go to the right families.
Deb Beirnes, out for the first time this year, said the most shocking thing to her was just how much need there really is in the community, adding she’s happy to help any way she can.
“It’s my day off, and what better way to spend it than coming here and helping, and chatting with the other people about their plans for the Christmas holidays,” she said.
“I will definitely be out again next year.”
Pam Webb is another volunteer who took time out of her schedule to come down to Lions Hall to help wrap gifts.
She has been coming for the past six or seven years now, and looks forward to helping whenever the WCS makes the call for volunteers.
“I like to support Woolwich Community Services, and this is one of the ways to do it,” she said as she wrapped up a toy in bright Christmas paper. “You grow to appreciate the tons of work that goes on in the background, and realize that we’re a lucky community to have WCS.”
As she puts the last piece of tape on the gift she is wrapping – the tag says it is for a seven year-old girl – she explains why it’s important for the gifts to be wrapped with such care, instead of simply being put into a gift bag.
“Kids like the wrapping paper: there’s so much fun in ripping it all apart,” she laughed.
The hall is empty now, with all of the hampers delivered to families on Thursday, but Christie said that shouldn’t discourage families from coming in to WCS between now and Christmas if they need a little extra help for the holidays.
“If families are still in need, they can still come to us and we’ll put together a Christmas hamper for them,” she said. “If they’re waiting on the last E.I. cheque or are trying to make their next paycheque stretch into Christmas, but aren’t quite sure if they can, come in and see us and we will accommodate them.”
With all the work and 12-hour days that go into making the hamper program a success each year, Christie notes the hardest part isn’t organizing or executing the program. It’s the fact they have to do it at all that she finds most difficult.
“The community has been very generous. If we need boxes, we call Elmira Pet Products; if we need tables, we call the Lions Club; if we need paper, we call Home Hardware head office, and they all came through,” she said.
“The hardest part is seeing how much need there is out there.”