One week from today, millions of Canadians will pause. Whether it’s to celebrate the Christian message of the birth of a saviour, or to recognize the importance of peaceful generosity, this is the season of grace and love. (It can also be the season of over-used credit cards, harried shoppers,
bitter ‘arrangements’, loneliness, and greed.)
Several months ago, when I was approached to become the new president of Christmas Cheer, I paused to imagine how I would schedule the demands of this gargantuan effort of collection and distribution into an already overflowing life. My friends clucked knowingly and chided me gently. My husband began to make his own list of Othings to do¹, removing many of the duties from my list to his. Our kids all laughed, having participated in selecting food and toys for Christmas Cheer, and then joining me to help sort and assemble baskets.
Why did I say “yes?” Mostly because of a remark Bill Caldwell made to me in 1972 at a Rotary Club meeting at the Mirmar Gardens. I was “covering” Rotary for the local weekly newspaper and chanced to sit beside Bill. I asked him about his Rotary commitment. This is what he said. “I decided a long time ago that 20 percent of my time would be devoted to the betterment of my community. I try to do that every week.”
Wise words and ones I¹ve taken to heart over the years. It¹s the difference between making a living and making a life.
And so I am humbled by the incredible outpouring of support for this effort. For the tightly focussed six weeks between Remembrance Day and Christmas Day, thousands of people give in one way or another so that those going through a tough time have a Christmas celebration that involves having enough, if only for one week.
Christmas Cheer will care for 6000-7000 men, women and children on Christmas Day. Over 1,300 families will receive hampers that include fresh fruit and vegetables, a Christmas turkey, dessert mixes, and food for a week. Accompanying the hamper are enormous bags of toys for kids. Families get food vouchers and teenagers get gift certificates. And everyone helps to make it happen. Malls reduce prices so vouchers have a greater value. Grocery stores give reduced costs for bulk buys. Newspapers, radio stations who are usually competing for advertising dollars and news items come together to share the stories of Christmas caring.
Individual people, like those at Thursday night¹s Colts game, bring new, unwrapped toys and food to the Christmas Cheer donation boxes. They drop dollar bills and coins into our coin boxes and take time to thank the Cheer volunteers who were there.
People like the 147 members of Royal Canadian Air Force Association, Huronia Wing 441, work all year at bingo, at fundraising events so that they can hand over a cheque for $1000 so Christmas can be brighter for residents of Essa, Innisfil, Oro and Barrie. The employees of Barrie Honda dealership pool their social club money and hold fundraising events all year so they can press a cheque for $5000 into the hands of Christmas Cheer.
Women like Audrey Webb are busy knitting away, providing infant¹s sweater sets, little dolls, cherished items for little ones.
Sue Barker at Georgian College is receiving Canadian Tire dollars and real dollars from staff throughout the college. Individuals and groups finance the purchase and assembly of one trike after another until over 200 trikes are assembled and waiting to go to eager little faces on Christmas morning.
The woodworking shop at Georgian is busy turning out wooden toys, rocking horses, blocks and little wagons, all funded by Georgian staff.
Brad Ellis over at North Collegiate is building yet another dollie for Christmas Cheer so those filling food hampers can pull boxes along, rather than scraping and yanking them from one food station to another.
All next week, willing volunteers will show up to help sort food and toys coming in from schools all across Barrie region. Somebody will take on the tedious job of breaking down cardboard boxes for the recycling bins… not exciting work, but essential. Other volunteers, like Dana Quinto and Lori Bell, will run the canteen where volunteers can get a refreshment during hours of busy effort.
Stores, service groups, businesses, and individuals are drawing deep into their coffers to give what they can… all in the name of brotherly and sisterly love as we enter this time of great sentiment.
The core Christmas Cheer team has been labouring since June to ensure smooth decision-making and fruitful campaigning. Whether it;s the caring people who interview needy applicants, or telephone service expert Donna Jelly who checks the Christmas Cheer line twice daily and redirects the hundreds of calls to the appropriate volunteer… it¹s all done by volunteers with a smile on their face and a glow in their hearts.
Glow. Festival of lights. Trees. Lights. Star. Direction. Hearth. Heart.
Thank you. All of you.