The story behind the stories

Well, as we undecorated the tree last night, tucking angels into their boxes, and hoping the vacuum has enough oomph to suck up a bucket of needles, it gave time for reflection. So much focus and energy concentrated on a week or two of winter lights, tissue, laughter and love.

Kid two is back at school; the other two weren¹t home for Christmas this year. They were replaced by literally hundreds of faces at the Event Centre where I spent five long days before Christmas. It¹s amazing, really, how fast a team can set up a centre that creates 1200 huge hampers, receives and sorts thousands of pounds (I date myself… kilograms!) of food, looks at thousands of toys, scratching out price tags and adding batteries where necessary. We met our goals! We cared for 4100 people (a small town, really) and we raised enough money to do it!

It’s a well oiled machine that moved into several thousand square feet, filling it completely. We never know whether we¹ll have enough volunteers when the time comes to do all the sorting, and hamper assembly. Volunteers came in droves. Our first-ever evening session was so successful we’ll do it every year.

But I’d like to focus for a minute on the unseen faces that few meet.

Let’s look for a minute at Bev Hostyn. Bev coordinates food. Assisted by a volunteer who negotiates and purchases huge quantities, including 1200 15-pound turkeys (picture that many frozen turkeys arriving on delivery day!), Bev organizes space, sets up sorting areas, oversees and makes minute decisions about what¹s acceptable and what needs to be shared with other organizations. It¹s a huge job with high pressure and she manages the hundreds of volunteers funnelled to her through Volunteer Coordinator Hank Thibideau.

Hank receives emails, phone calls, and people who just arrive. He stays focussed on who needs help in which section, for what and when and manages to make sure volunteers are doing work they want to do when they¹re needed.

Barb Pollard is an RVH nurse in her real life. But it¹s Barb who coordinates the drop off and pick up of toy donation boxes all over Barrie. It¹s Barb who figures out how to sort out the thousands of donated toys. She sets up the system for initial reception, battery-adding, and then sorting for gender and age. She oversees transcribing from application forms the ages and genders of children, along with special wishes, so toy shoppers can fulfill as much as possible the desires of Christmas Cheer recipients.

Peter Kurtz is the operations guy. He rents the trucks, finds the volunteer drivers, sends them on their routes, generally dispatches the operational workforce here and there.

Steve Barry oversees the crew that fills almost an entire room with assembled hampers, donated faithfully year after year by Moore Packaging. Steve also handles special fundraising events and this year initiated our successful red bracelet fundraiser. He worked with Heather McClellan who ran our Coin Box program. Heather¹s team blanketed Barrie with Christmas Cheer coin boxes, distributing, collecting and counting the contents.

And we can¹t forget Jeff Walther. Formerly the soul of B101, Jeff is now the soul of the Advertising program at Georgian College. He¹s also the media soul of Christmas Cheer, tireless in his efforts to get the stories out to all Barrie media. He takes and emails pictures, arranges interviews, and works with Helen Mathers to achieve miraculous promotional efforts on a zero budget.

It’s all zero budget unless it¹s being bought to go into hampers.

Almost every school in the region raises food, toys and cash for Christmas Cheer. Each school asks for a specific pickup time and this is all coordinated with the school bus lines… Sinton and Laidlaw. Busses drop off children, and load up their school¹s boxes, then come to the Event Centre to drop off before going to pick up the next load of children. This is a coordination nightmare and Guthrie Elementary School teacher Mary Harris makes it all work.

And who gets to decide who receives a Christmas Cheer hamper? Al and Joyce Cooper have been kindly, empathetically taking and overseeing applications from families all over Barrie region. Their team took applications from well over 1,200 families this year. Contrary to rumour, Christmas Cheer supports many families who are working, but whose incomes just aren¹t enough to cover Christmas. Al and Joyce also coordinate with other agencies in town… Childrens Aid, Salvation Army, Food Bank etc., sharing our list with theirs so we maximize what we have to give and make sure it¹s shared fairly.

What happens to some of the donations that aren¹t deemed suitable for a Christmas Cheer hamper? Jae Fratzl operates a busy redistribution centre where she boxes up the new pair of high heels, makeup, toiletries, food in glass containers, baby food, pasta in cello bags, etc, etc… she ships it all to places who gratefully receive it… Women¹s & Children¹s Crisis Centre, Youth Haven, Food Bank, Salvation Army and many more.

And who are the people who check the mailbox, receive the cheques or cash, enter it all on computer, and balance the budget? Well, Brian Fotherby uses his accounting skills to help set the budget and keep us on track. ³Brian, do we have enough money to cover this cheque?² I ask slyly before signing. Silly question for someone as adept as Brian. Cindy Tonn handles distribution of hundreds of appeal letters, recording donations, giving me a daily running total of where we stand financially. She is the busiest Cheer elf in January because she also sends out all the charitable receipts!

The entire Angus operation, a substation to the coordinated efforts that start in Barrie, is run by Casey and Shirley Hooymans. Bravo! And the Innisfil operation is in the capable hands of Bronno Niemeyer and Bob Watson.

And who keeps us on track, on schedule, reminding us of agreed-upon changes and subtly nudging us to our common goal? Val Blaker. The under appreciated, hard working, ever-present, great grandmother and Christmas Cheer secretary.

These are department chair people of Christmas Cheer. They all have enthusiastic assistants and they all work with literally hundreds of volunteers the week before the big push. These are the folks who meet all year long to make this happen.

Thanks, team. You’re one in a million!