By Nick Bernard
Thousands of kilometres away from the North Pole, in our very own backyard, there is a team of hardworking leaders and volunteers getting ready for the giving season. That work is happening at the Minden Community Food Centre, where preparations are underway for this year’s Christmas hamper and toy drive.
Joanne Barnes, food centre manager, said she expects an increased number of people collecting hampers this year.
“We’re expecting the numbers may be higher this year because our registered numbers are higher,” she said. “But everything has been totally different during the last 19 months.”
She says families that have been collecting pandemic-related government benefits haven’t needed to go to the food centre. But, since most COVID-based financial assistance programs ended in October, those families have started to return. According to Barnes, the food centre is now being visited by 16 to 18 families per day.
“And we’re taking in new people every week,” Barnes added.
Donations, however, are still good, and Barnes said that, despite some intermittent activity in the summer, the food centre is well-prepared for the season ahead. This means this years’ Christmas hampers will have plenty of fixings for the families that need them.
“[Families] have a choice between a turkey or a ham dinner. So, they get that with all the fixings for their main Christmas dinner, plus a week’s worth of groceries,” Barnes explained. Families will be asked for their meal preference, as well as addressing any allergies they might have among them.
In addition to a hamper full of food, there will also be toys for the children. Barnes says that each hamper will have a different toy in it, based on the size and makeup of each family. Barnes says that when families register, they’ll be asked for the names of everyone in the household, and the ages of the children.
The food centre has help with collecting toys from various businesses, agencies, and service groups around the area. Christmas trees will be set up at places like banks, retail spaces, and the post office, each adorned with tags that include a small toy request meant for someone specific.
“When people go in, there’s tags on the trees, so they take a tag and it might say ‘A 10-year-old Girl’,” Barnes explained.
From there, an individual can purchase that toy and return it to the tree. Staff from the food centre pick up the toys on a regular basis. Barnes says that the food centre has never needed to purchase toys themselves, thanks to the generosity of the community at large.
“This is the most giving community I know,” Barnes says about the public’s support. “It’s overwhelming what people will do for people. We buy all the food for the hampers –that’s all done through the food bank — but we’ve never had to buy gifts.”
Like last year, the distribution of Christmas hampers will be done with COVID-19 precautions in mind.
Families will be able to collect their hampers outside, where volunteers will check their identification and match them up with their respective hamper.
If you are in need and wish to get your name on the list for Christmas hampers, you can contact the Minden Community Food Centre at (705) 286-6400. Registration begins Nov.22, and will take place between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.