PORT AUX BASQUES, N.L.
As Christmas rapidly approaches, the Salvation Army volunteers have once again taken on the role of Santa’s elves this year.
“I have many volunteers right now. They’re doing a fantastic job. It takes many volunteers to get the work done,” says Salvation Army Captain Maurice Collins.
In addition to the food bank Christmas hampers, the organization also runs a joint effort with the ministerial association to coordinate an annual toy drive which gifts toys to roughly a hundred children each year.
Local businesses, volunteer and sports groups also help out, collecting toys and cash donations during the Christmas parade and holding their own collection drives to help children.
Families with children in need of a bit of extra help are able to submit confidential requests listing each child’s age and interests, and the volunteer elves do their best to fulfill that list too.
This is Trula Seaward’s first year volunteering for the toy drive, but it won’t be her last.
She admits that the first night she and her sister, who also volunteers, scrolled through some of the requests was an eye opening experience.
“My goodness, if you could only empty out your own bank account to make sure these kids had what they wanted,” says the mother of two.
“So far this year we have 52 applications just for children,” she said regarding the number of families who have asked for toys. “Last year we had 89.”
While the number has dropped a bit, Seaward says it’s expected to climb as Christmas approaches. There have even been requests on Christmas Eve, and while there is a set deadline, volunteers will try to fulfill all of the requests right up until the very last minute.
“We try to do what we can,” promises Seaward. “No kid will be left out. Every kid will get something. Every kid will get something on their wish list, whether we have to go out and buy it or whether it’s already been donated.”
Every year there is a particular toy that tops the wish list that the children themselves always submit, and this year it’s Slime kits.
“Unless you have children you don’t realize Slime kits are a popular item this year,” Seaward said.
But among the toys collected there weren’t any Slime kits. Situations like these are when cash donations come in handy. Seaward went to Corner Brook on other business and swung by a store to grab some kits. Some local businesses regularly offer discounts to the group, meaning each dollar stretches further.
Like the food bank, the toy drive goes on throughout much of the year, reaching its zenith as the holiday season hits.
“Any new toys that come through the thrift store, they’ll put them aside for the Christmas toy drive,” Seaward noted.
In addition, there are a number of businesses, sports and volunteer groups that accept toys and cash donations for weeks prior to Christmas, and also during the Christmas parade. Some businesses will even use a prize incentive to entice people to donate. Most of the donations will actually come into the volunteers when businesses and groups drop off their collected goods around mid-December.
Then the toys will be matched to a family’s gift hamper request.
Gifts that have been pre-wrapped prior to donation must always be unwrapped before they can be distributed to a child.
“A lot of people do come in and they wrap gifts, but what we have to do right away is unwrap them or take them out of the gift bags just to make sure that things are appropriate,” explains Seaward.
Confidentiality is paramount, and identities are zealously protected by the organizers. Each family is assigned a number and eventually collects the opaque numbered bag that matches their list.
At a time when most kids are focused on trendy toys, some of the requests these volunteers handle are heartbreaking.
“We’ve got one child that’s eight years old,” she said. “All they asked for is a warm blanket.”
Seaward went shopping again and carefully picked out a warm, soft blanket for the child.
“This year too we also have a lot of teenagers,” notes Seaward. “So far this year I’d say about half the applications have been teenagers.”
Requests for teenagers are usually fulfilled via gift cards.
“They’ve asked for gift cards so that when they get out on their lunch break at school they can go and get a pizza with their friends,” says Seaward. “Or they’ve asked for clothes.”
For Seaward, who works as a nurse and donates regularly each year, volunteering has granted her a personal level of satisfaction and a chance to give back a bit more this Christmas.
“I’m sure there’s still a lot of families out there who don’t reach out,” says Seaward. “You don’t realize how many people are in need. You don’t realize who is struggling, and sometimes it’s people who are standing right next to you.”
Applications for food and toy hampers are available at any church or the Gateway Women’s Centre. For information contact Maurice Collins or Rev. Jeffrey Petten.