Joanne Freeman, Patti Crowdis, Rita Burbulevicius, Sybil Harrower and Sheila Colvin are helping out at Rudolph’s Gift Shop at Christmas hamper headquarters. Phil Melnychuk/THE NEWS

Joanne Freeman, Patti Crowdis, Rita Burbulevicius, Sybil Harrower and Sheila Colvin are helping out at Rudolph’s Gift Shop at Christmas hamper headquarters. Phil Melnychuk/THE NEWS

A Maple Ridge tradition warms the heart

Christmas hamper making underway in Albion flats

A few weeks ago, it was an empty barn.

Now, the building on the Albion fairgrounds next to Planet Ice is buzzing as Santa’s helpers at the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows Christmas Hamper Society turn it into a wonderland.

Registration for the hundreds of Christmas hampers to be given out this year started the second-last week of November, as volunteers began sorting new toys and second-hand goods and clothes to ensure everyone gets a Christmas of some kind.

“We’ve got a bunch of new volunteers,” said long-time volunteer and organizer Lorraine Bates.

Once the building opened, volunteers dragged out box after box of new toys that had been kept in storage from the previous year and began sorting and organizing. Part of getting a hamper means the parents of each child in the family gets to pick out $75 to $100 worth of new toys for their son or daughter. That way, their children get exactly what they want for Christmas.

Bates explained that it’s important to start the Christmas hamper drive with an inventory from last year because it will be too late to help people this year by relying on donations that usually come in towards the end of the season. Later that week, another shipment of new toys was expected from the Vancouver Christmas Bureau.

Registration has already started for families who want a hamper. In addition to the new toys, kids can also get a new or near-new bicycle, the third year such a gift has been available.

“It is nice to get a bike for Christmas,” Bates said.

There are several chances to register to receive a hamper. The two remaining dates are Dec. 10 at the Christmas hamper society office in the Albion fairgrounds and Dec. 14 at Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows Community Services, 11907 228th St.

Usually, stories about the Christmas hamper recount ever-rising yearly numbers of people that have to be helped because of dire circumstances of varying descriptions.

But this year, there could be about the same as the 561 hampers given out during Christmas 2016. A total of 96 people registered first day.

If people can’t get down to the Albion fairgrounds, they can also help out by taking new, unwrapped toys to Haney Place Mall, Valleyfair Mall, Otter Coop and The News offices.

Cheques made out payable to the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows Christmas Hamper Society can also be dropped off at The News or the Co-op. People can also donate online.

Part of receiving a hamper is a bundle of toys and a food voucher that will make sure each family gets to visit the free Rudolph’s Recycle Gift Shoppe when they can pick out used toys, books, clothing or household items or Christmas decorations. Warm winter clothes and boots for all ages, but particularly for kids 5 to 12 years old, are needed for the shop.

As well, kids have a chance to visit Kids Only Gift Shoppe where they can also pick out something for mom, dad or a caregiver. Santa usually pays a visit there as well.

“We’re asking people to empty out their closets of stuff they don’t need,” said Bates.

She was also looking forward to a major shot in the arm provided by the Realtors Care Blanket Drive that was due to drop of hundreds of coats and blankets in late November. More than 90 bags of clothes and blankets were expected but the realtors delivered more than 200.

Schools are also adopting several families and last year Thomas Haney and Meadowridge School organized gift card drives where students donated gift cards of varying amounts.

People can also sign up Good Neighbour and adopt one of the registered families and create their own hampers which they can give directly to families. Gift cards are a handy way of helping out, in whatever amounts volunteers want.

This is also the first year without organizer and motivator Tom Cameron, who volunteered at the hamper society for four decades. Cameron died in December 2016 of leukemia.

“He’s greatly missed,” said Bates, who added that Cameron would go out of his way to help the hard-luck cases.

“Some of those people, they look for him.”

In addition to the army of volunteers, Bates doesn’t neglect to mention the inmates from B.C. Corrections who are on a work program and always help out.

“They do a lot of the bull work for us,” she said.

For people who want to help out, getting the chance to sponsor a particular family for a hamper provides the true sense of Christmas giving.

Last year, there were 85 families who received such assistance. “They can either deliver that stuff to the family or if they want to remain anonymous, we’ll have someone deliver it to them.”

Bates said people of all descriptions like to help out the Christmas Hamper Society in whatever way they can.

“Some people give cash. Some people give second-hand stuff. Some people give their time.”