Coming together to help make Christmas bright

It takes a community effort to bring Christmas to 500 families in need each year through the Christmas Sharing program in Chilliwack.

Lynn Kramer (left) and Karin Massar laugh as a toy continues to sing to them at the Christmas Sharing warehouse. The two are with Chilliwack Community Services which will be giving Christmas toy hampers to about 500 families in need.

Lynn Kramer (left) and Karin Massar laugh as a toy continues to sing to them at the Christmas Sharing warehouse. The two are with Chilliwack Community Services which will be giving Christmas toy hampers to about 500 families in need.

It takes a community effort of donations, fundraising, and volunteers to bring Christmas to more than 500 families in need each year.

Chilliwack Community Services (CCS) has been offering its Christmas Sharing program for 86 years. It all began in 1928 when one woman asked her neighbours to help a fellow neighbour who was struggling at Christmas. Since then, the people of Chilliwack have been selflessly bringing Christmas to families in need.

“It’s helping families in the community,” says Karin Massar, fund development officer at CCS. “A lot of people have circumstances, such as sudden job loss, or illness, so they are not able to provide their families with the Christmas they anticipate.”

CCS collects toys for all kids, from newborns up to age 17. They also collect donations of new clothes such as pyjamas, winter clothing, infant clothing, socks and hoodies, and cash donations.

For each child, a typical hamper will include a large gift (valued at $40-$50), one or two smaller gifts (valued at around $20), pyjamas, stuffie for kids under 10, and if available: a hat, mitts, candy, a stocking, a book, and wrapping paper.

CCS works with the Salvation Army, which provides the food portion of the hampers.

Each hamper also includes one board game per family.

“We do try and include a board game for every family because it’s together time,” says Massar.

As always, popular toys like Lego, board games, books, cars and trucks, and super heroes are always a big hit. Themed toys like Hello Kitty, Monster High, and Frozen are also in high demand.

But it’s gifts for the older kids that they’re typically low on every year. This year is no different.

For teenagers, they are in need of items like arts-and-craft kits, makeup, cosmetics and body washes (for both boys and girls), hair accessories (hair dryers, curling irons, mousse, brushes), ear buds, portable bluetooth speakers, and gift cards for places like Cottonwood Mall, electronics stores, sporting goods stores, Target, and Walmart.

Every year, thousands of toys are donated to the Christmas Sharing program.

Unfortunately, since the economic downturn of 2008, the need has gone up and the donations have gone down, says Massar.

In 2008, cash donations were at $66,672. The following Christmas, it dropped by nearly half to $35,073. CCS still has not recovered from the downturn as cash donations now average about $43,000 each year.

Though they do collect items year-round, November and December are definitely the busiest months. People can donate unwrapped gifts at one of the gift drop-off locations (listed below) or at one of the community toy drives.

The unofficial kickoff for the program begins each year with the annual Rotary CATT Fund Volleyball Tournament toy drive which took place this past weekend and brought in $27,000 and 370 toys.

“They give us our jumpstart big time,” says Lynn Kramer, Christmas Sharing program coordinator.

Other upcoming toy drives include the Chilliwack Chiefs Teddy Bear and Toque Toss (Dec. 12 at 7 p.m. at Prospera Centre), the Re/Max Nyda Realty Toy Drive (Dec. 13 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at IHOP, includes breakfast and a picture with Santa), and the Chances and Murray Group Toy Drive (Dec. 14 from 9 to 11 a.m. at Chances Community Gaming Centre; whoever makes a donation gets breakfast to-go).

If you wish to donate but are not sure which age group or gender to buy for, CCS can help.

Head to one of the several ‘Angel Trees’ in town. You choose a tag from the tree which will have a child’s gender and age written on it. Buy a gift to suit those requirements and then return the gift, with the tag, to the tree.

New this year is their partnership with Scotiabank. The bank is accepting cash donations until Dec. 15 for the program, and any donations up to $5,000 will be matched by Scotiabank.

“The cash donations give us the opportunity to buy the things that haven’t been donated but are necessities like pyjamas, hats, and mitts,” says Massar.

The Christmas Sharing program gives families contentment, says Kramer. “It gives them hope in the future but also in the community around them,” she says. “I also think it gives them a great sense of peace, thinking their child may not be getting anything or next to anything for Christmas.”

In addition to the donations of toys, clothes, and money, people also donate their time.

One hundred local high school students spend hundreds of hours volunteering at the Christmas Sharing warehouse. They make up more than half of all the volunteers every year.

“They are the staple. They are the ones we can count on and can do a lot of the work,” says Kramer.

“They enjoyed it so much that by the end of their first shift, they’re asking when they can come back for more,” adds Massar.

There is also a very stable group of couples who volunteer every year, plus employees from local businesses.

This year, CCS expects to be giving gifts to more than 1,000 kids.

To get toys into in the hampers this year, they need to be donated by Dec. 15.

Those eligible to receive Christmas hampers (on income assistance, disability pension, EI benefits, or struggling with low income) can apply at 46144 Yale Rd. Hours are Mondays to Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. (closed noon to 1 p.m.). The application deadline is Dec. 6.

“It’s a delight how many people have the opportunity to do this,” says Kramer. “It’s the closest I get to being Mrs. Santa Claus.”

Here are the drop-off locations (*asterisk denotes Angel Tree locations):

• Chilliwack Community Services (45938 Wellington Ave., 9214 Mary St., 7112 Vedder Rd.)• Cottonwood Mall*• Chilliwack Mall*• Dairy Queen (both locations)*• Vancity Credit Union*• Anavets (46268 Yale Rd.)• Suda Salon Artwork (104-45619 Yale Rd.)• She’s Fit (45619 Yale Rd.)*• Envision Financial (three locations)• RBC Royal Bank branches*• Hofstede’s*• Hampton House• Coast Capital Savings*• Royal Hotel*• Scotiabank• Murray Honda*• Murray Mazda*• Serenity Chiropractic (8635 Young Rd.)*