Every holiday season families across Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows facing financial hardship turn to the Christmas Hamper Society for help.
This year Lorraine Bates, chair of the society for the past 23 years, is not only expecting her workload to double because of the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the community, but she is also facing the fact that the 2020 Christmas Hamper is going to look very different.
Bates is expecting around 800 families to be registered by the society by the time Christmas rolls around. Last year the society helped around 400 families.
And, sadly, their operations are going to change as they navigate the city’s strict safety guidelines for use of the exhibition building on the fairgrounds to keep both families and volunteers safe.
Bates and her team have opted to revert back to their original mandate – making sure every registered child has gifts under the tree Christmas morning and every family has food vouchers for a full Christmas dinner.
In previous years families were able to pick out brand new toys for their children in the Toy Barn and new and slightly used items at the Rudolph’s Recycle Gift Shoppe. Then there was the Kid’s Only Gift Shoppe where children could pick out presents for their parents or caregivers.
Not this year.
Volunteers would not be able to sanitize every toy that was donated, said Bates. And if there was an outbreak, the city could possibly shut them down, she added.
So, they will not be collecting toys this year. There will be no mall collection boxes and toys left over from last year will be kept in storage.
Instead they will only be handing out gift cards. Every child will receive $75 in gift cards from local businesses.
The society will also be working closely with the Friends In Need Food Bank this year, who will also be registering families. So, the society will not have to process every family because that work will have already been done.
Those not registered with the food bank will still be able to register over the phone with the Christmas Hamper Society. For this there will be four registration dates, yet to be determined.
Then, before Christmas, families will be given specific times to pick up their packages at the Maple Ridge Fairgrounds where a drive-through will be set up to keep people distanced from one another.
For donors there will be a separate drive-through event where they can enjoy some Christmas festivities and drop off gift cards to be donated.
“That’s the safest procedure we could come up with,” said Bates.
“It’s out of our control,” she added.
Donations have been pouring in since the Sept. 22 break-in at the society office located on the Albion Fairgrounds where thieves made off with the safe that contained $10,000 in gift cards, a laptop, external hard drives, power tools and a first aid kit.
Since then around $37,098 in donations have been pledged, explained Tina Kirkpatrick, director of the Christmas Hamper Society, although not all have been received yet.
So far they have received $10,000 from Maple Ridge Chrysler, $1,000 from Pitt Meadows Plumbing and Mechanical, $1,500 from Westgate Flower Garden, $1,000 from Smith and Co., $1,000 from Envision Financial, $1,000 from the Kiwanis Club of Golden Ears, and a $10,000 donation from an anonymous Canadian business man who lives in New York.