The annual Christmas Festival has been cancelled this year.
After coming up with a new drive-through format that followed COVID-19 safety guidelines, the recent spike in cases across the Fraser Health region forced organizers to pull the plug.
“Disappointing,” said Lorraine Bates, executive director of the Maple Ridge Pitt Meadows Christmas Hamper Society, who had been planning to team up with the Maple Ridge Christmas Festival Society for the event at Albion Fairgrounds on Dec. 5.
They were planning to have a four-hour event called Drive-through for Santa Cause, where vehicles could drive along a path through the fairgrounds to see a series of stationary floats set up along each side of the route.
There was going to be a non-perishable food drop off site for the Friends In Need Food Bank, Santa Claus was going to wave to children from his workshop and, before visitors left, they could donate gift cards to the Christmas Hamper.
They submitted a COVID plan.
However they were told they could only let 50 cars in per hour and after one hour they would have to close the site for another hour to disinfect.
Bates decided to contact the PNE where they have been holding drive-through events since the summer and found out that they received a special exemption.
But with the Maple Ridge event around the corner, Bates felt there wasn’t enough time to try to get a special exemption for their event.
In addition, Bates said, the Provincial Health Officer has only given new directions for the next two weeks. If the province decides to extend the period to one month, then all of their work would be for nothing.
“And I think, for me and my volunteers, we just want to make sure the kids get a Christmas,” she said.
Trish Coft, president of the Maple Ridge Christmas Festival Society, explained they couldn’t put on the event in light of the latest COVID-19 restrictions. They couldn’t, “in good conscience”, ask groups, that have likely been shut down for the next two weeks, to prepare a float for the parade.
Instead, she said, the focus this year will be on messages of good tidings and community building.
Similar to how the city put on a convoy for Canada Day, they will also be putting on a convoy for Christmas.
Coft will be putting together online content to showcase some of the parade participants from past years, along with warm wishes and Christmas greetings from local community groups and businesses.
“Please know that this decision was not an easy one to come to as we all want to get back to some level of normalcy,” added Coft.
“It is the right decision for us at this time and now our focus should be on ensuring that we can spread the Christmas cheer in a safe and COVID-19 friendly way in hopes that we will all be able to gather for Christmas with our families,” she said.
Anyone wanting to donate gift cards to the Christmas Hamper Society can drop them off Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at the society office Albion Fairgrounds location from 10 a.m. until noon.
Bates also wants to assure donors that volunteers will be wearing face shields and there will be a Plexiglas box that they can put their donations in.
People who don’t want to go down to the fairgrounds can mail the society a cheque or make a donation through PayPal.
“We want to keep everybody safe,” added Bates.
Currently the Christmas Hamper Society is working with the Friends In Need Food Bank to streamline registrations. Registration forms were send out last week, said Bates, and those who feel they need a little help this holiday season have until the end of November to get forms back in.
“They are coming in slow, but I think it’s just a different process,” said Bates.
For those not registered with the food bank can still register on the Christmas Hamper website.
So far 63 people have registered.
There are also 44 good neighbours who are waiting to sponsor a family.
Last year there were more than 100 good neighbours.
“We don’t generally commence registration this early,” noted Tina Kirkpatrick, director of the Christmas Hamper Society, and so, she says, they don’t know what numbers to expect this year.
“The numbers we were advised by community groups were high in August and September but here we are 2 weeks into the registration cycle and so few applications,” she said.
This year the focus of the Christmas Hamper Society will be providing a Christmas meal and gifts to families with children. Single people, adult couple families and group adult households will not be able to receive assistance from the Christmas Hamper Society, including seniors.
All registrations will be done remotely this year.
Rudolph’s Recycle Gift Shoppe, Toy Shopping and Kid’s Only will not be available.
Three $25 gift cards will be given to each child 18 years and younger and one gift card for food will be given to the family.
Families who were previously denied by the Christmas Hamper Society will be considered on a case by case basis.
A Means Test will be applied for all families.
For more information or to register go to mrpmchristmashamper.org.
To participate in the convoy for Christmas, email firstname.lastname@example.org or go to mapleridgechristmasfestival.com for more information.