Volunteers Lori Durham (left) and Kim Rehak

Sharing program helps keep Christmas bright

Chilliwack Community Services' Christmas Sharing program brings partners together to spread some holiday cheer.

At a secret location somewhere in Chilliwack, elves are already busy helping Christmas wishes come true for local families.

They’ve got their lists (and they’re checking them twice) as they try to match requests with a growing collection of donated toys and other gifts as part of the Chilliwack Community Services’ Christmas Sharing Program.

Last year the season was made brighter for 570 Chilliwack families, thanks to the work of these elves and other community partners.

It’s that community involvement that makes the program so strong, says James Challman, executive director of CCS.

“It’s just amazing,” he says.

The program stretches back more than 80 years and is tied closely to the origins of Chilliwack Community Services itself. In 1928 a woman noticed one of her neighbours was struggling, so she rallied other community members so the family would not be without during the holidays.

Today the Christmas Sharing program retains that community spirit, but its reach is much farther.

The program partners with the Salvation Army in the application process, assembly, and distribution of Christmas hampers. The Salvation Army collects the food donations and CCS manages the collection of gifts.

Fundraising events are held throughout the community to support the programs. The Chilliwack-Mount Cheam Rotary Club recently hosted its CATT volleyball tournament, raising $23,000 and 315 toys for CCS. And on Sunday, the Chilliwack Chiefs held their Teddy Bear and Toque Toss, with all the collected teddy bears and toques going to CCS.

This Saturday ReMax Realty will host its annual toy drive at the Pantry Restaurant (10 a.m. to 2 p.m.). Donations of new, unwrapped toys are accepted for all ages, CCS says, “from tots to teens, and moms and dads, too.”

There are also several drop off locations around the community. In addition, “Angel Trees” have been set up at both the Cottonwood and Chilliwack Malls where people can choose a child and purchase a gift for that individual.

Distributing these toys is a process that began weeks ago. The program is open to anyone receiving income assistance, a disability pension, EI benefits, or struggling on a low income. Part of the application process includes providing information about the children who will receive the gifts, including requests. (Applications end Dec. 7.)

Volunteers then take that information and match it to the donations that have been received. The biggest challenge, says Jodi Hanninen, Christmas Sharing co-ordinator, is finding appropriate gifts for teenagers. That’s were the unique expertise from many of the student volunteers is particularly welcomed, she says with a laugh.

Babies, too, are difficult to find gifts for. But that doesn’t stop the volunteers from trying. Last year nearly 700 volunteer hours were committed to the program.

Once all the gift requests are filled, the packages are married up with the food hampers at the Salvation Army.

Distribution is a special time, says Challman, and there are more than a few tears shed as the hampers are picked up.

Last year on Christmas Eve there were still a few that hadn’t found a home. Challman, with the help of his family, made sure they were delivered. That perspective underlined the importance of the program, particularly with his kids.

Donations will be accepted up until Dec. 17 at the three CCS locations: 45938 Wellington Ave, 9214 Mary Street, and 7112 Vedder Road. Volunteers are also welcome to help pick up donations or to pack hampers. For information, call Cari at 604.793.7203.

 

Gift Suggestions

Activity books ages 3-8

Arts and crafts ages 3-8

Basketballs, footballs, soccer balls•

Bicycles (used & new)

Bike helmets

Blankets, sleeping bags

Books for ages 0-18

Boots for winter – all ages

Cameras

Car seats, booster seats

CDs, DVDs, MP3s

Coats for winter – all ages

Gift cards

Hockey sticks

Infant sleepers & onesies

Learning focused toys, eg. Lego, blocks,

Dress-up, imaginative play

Nursery equipment

Phone cards

Puzzles for all ages

Socks, gloves, hats

T-shirts, sweatshirts, hoodies

Tickets to cinema, sports, theatre, gym  or pool

Toddler toys

Toiletries

Wallets/purses

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