As the holiday season approaches, volunteers at Centretown United Church are busy working to make this year’s Christmas a little brighter for individuals and families in need within the community.
Amanda Stephen, Centretown News
Organizers of the Centretown United Church food drive hold a meeting after the Sunday service.
For more than 30 years, the Christmas Hamper Project organized by the church has supplied thousands of Ottawa’s less fortunate with boxes of food, essential toiletries and small gifts to help them celebrate Christmas.
This year, project organizers hope to reach 180 families and individuals who have been identified by partnering community agencies, including Centretown Emergency Food Centre, Centre 507, Dalhousie Food Cupboard, the Laundry Co-op, The Well, and Salus.
“These projects are immensely important to the community,” says Karen Lamberton, who co-ordinates much of the hamper program’s administration. “The agencies are doing everything they can to feed and shelter their clients, but this project provides those extras at Christmas that the agencies just do not have the means to do.”
At the core of the project is a small group of volunteers led by coordinator Susan McIntyre. They organize all of the additional volunteers and tackle the arduous task of collecting important details from identifying recipients and pairing them with “adoptive” groups and families, to packing and distributing the hampers at Christmas. This group starts working in September and contributes countless hours behind the scenes to make sure everything runs smoothly.
Ann Hyland coordinates the packing of the hampers and has been involved with the project for 12 years.
“I was out on a very cold night on Elgin Street, having been out to dinner. And in front of Elgin Street Public School there was a fairly oldish man sitting in the snowbank, begging,” she says. “It was so cold, I really had to stifle an impulse to take him home, because I lived by myself at that time. I just felt awful walking away . . . it just haunted me.”
Hyland says that after talking to a friend about the incident, he told her about the Christmas Hamper Program and she has been involved ever since.
“Personally, I think my motivation is through my faith,” says Linda Pollock, who coordinates the distribution of the hampers. “I believe that faith is something you really have to express through action. I’m also a volunteer on the board at Centre 507, so I actually get a chance to work with and get to know people in need, and the hampers is another chance to help them.”
Centre 507 is an adult drop-in centre that has been run in the church since 1983 and helps downtown Ottawa’s disadvantaged residents.
Pollock says she also finds reward in delivering the hampers to the recipients.
“It’s generally a great experience,” she says. “When you bring the boxes to the address, there is generally someone waiting there who is genuinely grateful and very happy to see you . . . sometimes very emotional.”
The hamper project also draws hundreds of volunteers who contribute time and donations to create the baskets. Families and groups “adopt” a hamper, and collect all the goods and gifts needed by the hamper recipients.
For many, the hamper program has become an important family holiday tradition and a way to give back to the community.
“People in the community, people in surrounding churches, everyone just wants to do something good at Christmas,” says Hyland. “People bring their children to choose gifts and to pack hampers for people less fortunate. The neatest thing is to see parents and children working together to do this.”