The Whitecourt Christmas Hamper – helping kids be kids on Christmas Day

·5 min read

Just like all the gifts lovingly prepared by volunteers, the 49th year for the Whitecourt Christmas Hamper is wrapped up. Each year, volunteers continue to be amazed by the community's generosity as business owners, and residents alike dig deep for those less fortunate and donate towards the cause. Elaine Gunderson, Treasurer of the Whitecourt Christmas Hamper, said they need to thank the community for their support. "There are nine of us ladies that organize it, but we could not do this without the full support of the community."

On Friday, December 17, Gunderson and 28 volunteers wrapped hundreds of gifts at the Family Worship Centre following a day of pick-ups and drop-offs by ATCO employees. As the donations piled in from community groups and the various donation bins around town, volunteers got to work painstakingly sorting everything into workable categories. From there, hampers were separated, and the wrapping began. Gunderson said wrapping started at 9 am Friday.

"We have 119 hampers to do for the community, and that involves 263 kids. The reason the Christmas Hamper does this program, and we've been operating since 1972, which is 49 years, is for the kids. We have a lot of toys donated this year," she explained. On December 13, just three days ahead of the cut-off for donations, the Whitecourt Christmas Hamper Facebook page posted that they were short on stuffed animals. Typically, Hamper volunteers like to provide a stuffie to every child. "We knew we were short, so we did a blitz on trying to get stuffies donated. The community banded together and bombarded us with stuffies so that we would have enough to give to each child. That's 263 stuffies!"

One of the elves helping round up as many stuffed animals as possible was realtor Lexi Ames. What started as a fun challenge from one business to the next, with the hopes of filling up the front lobby area of the RE/MAX office, turned into an outpouring of support. Stuffed animals by the arm full started to show up along with other donation items. Within three days, the floor was unrecognizable, and everyone's hearts were full.

"The support was just awesome. So many people support the Christmas Hamper. It's such a relief to know that our kids will be getting the toys they need to make their Christmas. We don't do fundraising or running around to solicit people. We do a little PR, but we don't go out and do hands-on. When you see a group or a school bring in these things, it makes you feel really good and thankful that we have the stuff to distribute," said Gunderson.

Throughout the donation period, multiple businesses held fundraising events. Golden Arrow stuffed a bus, the Rotary Club loaded a cargo trailer, multiple schools held internal fundraisers, including Percy Baxter School and Ecole St. Mary's, and countless residents placed donations in the bins located in businesses throughout the community.

Gunderson said they knew they would be heard loud and clear when they asked for help getting more stuffed animals. "We've been working with Whitecourt people for 49 years, so we knew that if we put out a plea that we would get a reaction and that we would be able to wrap those things for our kids. Whitecourt did exactly what we expected. They followed through and helped us tremendously. We also asked for toys for a specific age group, and we got those filled. The Christmas Hamper Program is in really good shape right now."

Hamper numbers are up slightly, with three more than last year. Not only do Hamper families receive toys to make their children's eyes light up on Christmas morning, but they also receive food. "We give, for each adult and child in the house, gift certificates for them to buy food at either IGA or No Frills. Then they can buy whatever they want to make for their Christmas. Some don't have a big roaster to cook a turkey in or maybe the talent to cook a turkey, so if they would rather buy a chicken and cook that. They can cook whatever they want."

Gunderson said that they received a lot of gift cards this year, which really helps with the older children. "We can give those to teenage kids, and they can go buy what they need. We don't know what they want for toiletries so this way they can buy whatever they like. Music, a game, or something else." Another popular item received was games. Volunteers try to put a family game in each Christmas Hamper so that they can play and have fun together. "That's the reason the Christmas Hamper does this. We want to put a smile on the children's faces. On Christmas Day, we want them to be happy and like all other kids."

How many presents did the volunteers wrap up? Gunderson did a bit of math. "Each kid gets at least three toys in their Christmas Hamper, so multiply 263 by three (789). Then, add a stuffie for each child (263), and a game for each Christmas Hamper too." That's well over 1000 wrapped gifts.

On Saturday morning, the delivery elves were up to play their part by bringing each Hamper to its new home. "These people come every year because they want to. They will deliver the hampers for me, and all of them will be delivered before noon," said Gunderson. She said without the volunteer base support, the program wouldn't exist. "Phyllis Tomlinson has been a member since we started in 1972. She has been working with us and guiding us for 49 years, and next year will be her 50th year."

Gunderson said she thanks the community for coming together. "The kids and families will be very happy with the Christmas Hampers that are put together for them," she said.

Serena Lapointe, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Whitecourt Press

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