Calgary charities worry not enough holiday hampers as demand spikes, donations slow

Sarah Gladue, manager for the Alexandra Centre Society, says she's worried about meeting demand for holiday hampers this year. (Submitted by Sarah Gladue - image credit)
Sarah Gladue, manager for the Alexandra Centre Society, says she's worried about meeting demand for holiday hampers this year. (Submitted by Sarah Gladue - image credit)

By this time of year, says Sarah Gladue, the Alexandra Centre Society would usually have a bigger pile of non-perishable food, toys and warm clothing donations sitting in its office in southeast Calgary.

But donations have been trickling in a lot slower this year, says Gladue, the office manager.

Meanwhile, the charity has seen a huge spike in the number of requests by families and referral agencies for toys and food this holiday season.

"It's hard taking the calls for people that are so desperately in need. You can hear it. That's the toughest part of the job," said Gladue.

The Alexandra Society is not alone.

The director of EvenStart for Children's Foundation — a program for children in poverty who have suffered abuse, neglect or other traumas — says its waiting list for a holiday hamper has grown from 150 last year to 182 this year.

"And we're still continuously getting emails from people looking to be sponsored or receive help for Christmas," said Brianna Parkhill.

But Parkhill says staff now have to refuse additional requests because they can't guarantee they will fill them.

And even at 182 requests, she says it's going to be a struggle.

"Long-term donors that we've had, it's, you know, 'sorry, I have to take a break this year, I can't financially afford to do it,'" said Parkhill.

EvenStart connects donors with a family. The donor then provides the hamper that includes grocery gift cards, a few necessities and wish-list items.

Submitted by EvenStart
Submitted by EvenStart

Gladue says her charity's fundraising goal has doubled this year to $40,000 — just to cover the increased cost of food. The Alexandra Centre Society receives donations and then purchases most of the items and puts the hampers together.

So while it raised its fundraising goal this year, the charity is actually helping fewer families.

Last year, it created 300 hampers. This year, it plans to create 200 to 250 hampers.

"We're a little bit worried, but we always have grand hopes that at the last minute everything will come through and the community will support each other and support us," said Gladue.

The Calgary Chamber of Voluntary Organizations, a local group that promotes the non-profit and voluntary sector, says non-profits struggled to keep their doors open during the pandemic. Now that interest rates and inflation have risen, it says many won't be able to provide the same resources they once did, whether that's due to a lack of resources, a lack of staff or a mixture of both.

"You might not be able to find adequate seniors' care, or you may not be able to find a program to put your kid into summer camp, or you may not have mental-health support when you need it — that kind of thing," said Karen Ball, president and CEO of the chamber.

"And so I think for things like Christmas hampers and that kind of thing, maybe we can generally say, potentially they'll be not able to meet demand this year," said Ball.

Parkhill says she's already hearing from families that there are fewer Christmas hampers and other holiday resources being offered in Calgary this year — something she says she is not surprised by.

Parkhill says it can be both a labour-intensive commitment and emotionally draining trying to secure donations and hearing everyone's story.

"Because you know that every time you have to say, 'I'm sorry, we can't help you,' that there is a family and those kids out there that are going to be in that position who may or may not have anything for Christmas," said Parkhill.