At first glance, the cardboard boxes stacked up in a mountain and the trash bags filling the gym floor may have been a bit of an eyesore. But it was a beautiful, cheerful occasion at the Salvation Army Church.
Dec. 21 and 22 marked the hamper distribution days for the annual Christmas Sharing Program (CSP), the coordinated effort between the local Salvation Army and Chilliwack Community Services.
“We’ve almost outgrown this building,” said Brenda Armstrong, Community and Family Services Director for the Care and Share Centre. She’s been involved with the Chilliwack CSP for more than 20 years.
Despite expanding the hamper distribution to two days rather than one, there was still a constant stream of people – albeit very happy people – pushing their carts through the assembly line of goodies.
According to Brenda, volunteers were able to fill over 1,500 applications this year, about 250 of which were sponsored by individual families or local businesses.
The highly organized ‘mess’ was the end result of a fine-tuned program.
“It’s taken a lot of years to get to this point,” Brenda explained, but it continues to become easier every year.
With the assistance of volunteers, shopping carts were filled with a box of non-perishable food (including a turkey voucher), fresh breads, milk and vegetables. Applicants then proceeded to pick up their corresponding bag of gifts, which were custom curated to match the needs of their family.
The Christmas Sharing, Adopt a Family, and collective society hampers each operated out of a designated wing of the church.
This year, filling the hampers was “as smooth as silk… almost eerily smooth,” Brenda said with a laugh. Experiencing only minor hiccups, everything went well. Fortunately, even the weather worked in their favour.
“We have a good, strong community… we really do,” Brenda enthused. “And I’m part of a great team.”
There were approximately 130 volunteers helping out at the church on Monday alone, which Brenda said was more than she’s ever seen in years prior.
Regular volunteers returned during their Christmas holidays to help sign people in. Groups of high school students passed sacks of toys and wheeled bicycles over to deserving families. Cheerful kids were packing potatoes into carts.
Some parents chose to pick up their gifts in secret to surprise their kids on Christmas morning. Others brought their children along so that they could all show their appreciation.
It’s a program that is well-respected and appreciated in the Chilliwack community. Countless individuals, families and local businesses step up every year to donate time, resources and money, ensuring that Christmas is merry and bright for everyone.
“That’s what makes it fun,” Brenda explained. “You really feel like your spreading the Christmas spirit. We love doing it.”
As volunteers packed goods into trunks and backseats, they were thanked time and time again with warm hugs and heartfelt messages of appreciation.