"What do you want for Christmas, Mom?"

Hmmmm. Well, I'd love a pin cushion, I really would. And, perhaps if someone was really ambitious they could organize my binder full of recipes.

That's about it.

But that's not the case for hundreds and hundreds of people in the Barrie area. For as many reasons as there are people, this season of generosity, of longing, of worry, of fatigue, of gratitude, causes true despair.

Parents who are struggling with a rent cheque look at all the expectations of this season and feel agony that their little ones will face a hard reality far too soon in their lives.

Grandparents – lots of them – on fixed incomes and budgeting carefully to stretch their dollars, find themselves in a financial hole once they become full-time caregivers of one or more grandchildren.

Their fixed income doesn't allow for school trips, new sneakers, and presents.

A woman with a number of children finds herself on social assistance and bewildered by the tough road ahead. "Normal" Christmas has just taken a hike.

These are the faces behind the 30th annual Christmas Cheer, organized by people in Barrie and surrounding Innisfil, Essa, and Oro townships. This remarkable program will receive applications from at least 1,500 families, representing about 3,700 people ... men, women, children, and teenagers who are in school full time.

Applications began this week and by the time the kindly and respectful volunteers complete the last application, the team of workers will be setting up warehouse style at the Event Centre on Essa Rd.
Thousands and thousands of pounds of food, just as many donated toys will be delivered, sorted, and readied for their recipients.

Volunteers will assemble about 3,000 boxes, big ones and small ones, to be packed with food and fresh fruits and vegetables. Toys will be sorted into age and gender and by Wednesday morning Dec. 19, 'shoppers' will be sorting and then packing toy bags and food hampers.

I've been involved with Christmas Cheer since it started in 1978, as a sorter or packer or box flattener ... whatever needs doing. This is my third year in a larger role and this is what I've discovered ...

Barrie and area communities have caring hearts.

People look across at their fellow Canadians with care, with respect, and with great compassion.
People don't feel sorry for people. They feel honoured by the opportunity to hold out a hand to ease a rough crossing.

People who have lined up as recipients for the community's generosity, come back to help sort and pack and give to others.

Georgian College woodworking students are gluing and hammering and sanding beautiful wooden toys. Students, teachers and support staff are donating money to buy trikes and helmets ... every child under five who is a Christmas Cheer family will receive a trike, thanks to Georgian's program.

Service clubs, businesses, individuals are reaching for their chequebooks or going online to do a funds transfer to Christmas Cheer.

All over town, people are hearing stories and looking at their own comfortable lives and saying, "we have more than enough. We can reach out to someone else."

Little kids are dumping out piggy banks to buy a toy and bring it in to Christmas Cheer.

Schools all over the district are collecting food and toys and raising money ... their school lobbies jammed with goodness. And school bus drivers all over Barrie will pick up from schools and deliver to the Event Centre.

Groups of people are holding office parties and 'gifting' themselves with something they would have liked as a kid. Once the wrapping's off, the items are delivered to Christmas Cheer.

So much.

Our budget for this year is $150,000. We'll be buying 1,500 turkeys, hundreds of pounds of apples, carrots, potatoes, oranges. We'll be taking delivery of skids of peanut butter and cereal and apple juice for the hampers.

While we're busy at the Event Centre, people like Deb Weston of Grandma Deb's baked goods will be bringing in glorious cakes for Christmas Cheer hampers. People will drop by with cash, with cheques, with financial gifts for members of their families.

One young man last year came in with $50 in cash and asked to make it his Christmas gift for his Mom. We made out a gift card for him to present to her. I'll bet it was one of the best gifts she received last year!

When we reach outside of ourselves, the sun shines brighter and the world laughs in delight. And there's not a better feeling anywhere.

Thanks, Barrie. Thanks, Innisfil. Thanks, Essa. Thanks, Oro.

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