Waiting in line Thursday morning outside the trade and convention centre, not even the winter winds and rain could dampen Brittany Dery’s Christmas spirit.
With her nine-month-old daughter Nivaeh tucked warmly inside a covered stroller, Brittany and hundreds of others waited patiently for the centre’s doors to open so they could pick up their Christmas hampers.
During the morning, over 600 boxes of food items, including a turkey, were distributed by Salvation Army staff and the many volunteers to those needing a helping hand at this time of year.
As well, for young families like the Derys, there were additional bags containing a few toys to put under the tree for the little ones.
In total this Christmas the agency will make the season a bit more merry for 849 local households.
“I’m just so very thankful to all these people who have helped my family because it really means a lot, more than they can imagine,” said Brittany, whose husband is a seasonal worker and is currently unemployed. “I have a little baby I have to look after and I can’t work, so without this help I don’t know what we would do. We couldn’t do without it.”
Meagan Smethurst, who was also at the centre to pick up her basket, agreed about the importance of the service: “Without this there would probably be no Christmas for us. We don’t have much money and we just had a new baby so this helps out tremendously.”
Unable to work due to a medical condition, she, her husband and two-month-old daughter are living with a family member until they can get back on their feet.
“What they (Salvation Army) and these other people (volunteers) are doing is just amazing and I just hope they realize how much it means,” said Smethurst. “For us the whole pregnancy thing was unexpected so it’s just wonderful that these people would take time out to do this. It really does make it a merry Christmas for an awful lot of people.”
As she has for so many Christmases, community ministries director Christine Simmons of the Salvation Army was at her command post early Thursday morning overseeing the efforts.
Standing on a chair in the packing room, she told the volunteers not only about the importance of their physical labours, but of the compassion for those coming through the doors.
After leading the group in a brief prayer, it was time for the real job to begin.
“Christmas is supposed to be a joyous time but is tough for a lot of people,” said the director as the work went on around her. “A lot of people find it very stressful, especially if there are children involved, so we step in and if we can provide the Christmas meal and enough food for two or three days and some toys for the children, it takes a little of the burden off.
“Those we help are just normal, ordinary people like you and me, and everybody has a story.”
She added many of those waiting in line have jobs, but just the cost of living can make it difficult to make ends meet, especially in the winter.
The price of heating fuel, gasoline and even warm clothes can seriously cut into the family budget.
“This is a busy city but there are hungry people out there, we see the evidence of that throughout the year and especially at Christmas,” said Simmons.
As part of the accountability process, those who receive the hampers are required to pre-register and have a brief interview to determine their entitlement.
The director also praised those who give of their time to do the work, saying the program would not be possible without them.
During the day about 50 people donated time to fill and give out the baskets. Even before the distribution began, over 90 volunteer hours were spent in preparation.
Other people loaded the goods in vehicles and there were even those who gave people who needed it a lift home from the centre.
Shelly Hebert began volunteering with the hamper program while attending high school, and more than a decade later she still enjoys helping out.
This year, however, she was not alone, her three-year-old son Eli was along to do his part.
“I think it’s really important to show him that giving is the bigger picture and how good it feels to give than to receive,” she said.
“That is the true spirit of Christmas.”