If hunger and poverty at Christmastime strikes some as a big-city problem, last week’s massive rural Christmas hamper drive is ample evidence that these troubles are closer to home.
Canned soups, bread, cooking oil and many other everyday foodstuffs, along with the fixings for a Christmas dinner, were the gifts of food being delivered to thousands of less fortunate families and individuals in this province’s small centres and surrounding rural areas.
Legions of volunteers worked long days sorting, packing and organizing tons of perishable and non-perishable foodstuffs in what’s estimated to be anywhere from 40 or more hamper programs operating outside the city limits. Local cheer board programs are supported by churches, community groups or combinations thereof, supported by donations from individuals and local businesses. Programs like Drive Away Hunger by Farm Credit Canada, and donations by Manitoba Pork Producers also help to fill Christmas hampers.
Some local food hamper programs date back to early last century, when hampers were put together to provide food and toys for widows and orphans of soldiers lost during the First World War.
The Neepawa Christmas hamper program, which was busy filling about 100 hampers last week, dates back to those wartime relief efforts, said Darla Bradley of Neepawa’s Salvation Army, a charitable organization that has been in the community for more than 100 years.
Sometimes there’s calls for half as many again, she said, adding that a spike often occurs if it’s been an early winter and those in seasonal jobs get laid off. The greatest continuous need is among women, either single moms or grandmothers, raising small children.
The Neepawa-based program extends over a large outlying geographic area that takes in Arden and Gladstone, Bethany and Clanwilliam and south to the outskirts of Carberry where another hamper program operates.
Christmas hamper preparations begin weeks and even months in advance as a battalion of volunteers mobilize to raise funds, compile lists and start the annual collection.
In Melita, Donna Bell has volunteered to co-ordinate her community’s hamper program since 2002. They’ve had one operating here since 1989, begun as a United Church initiative, but now supported by many community-based groups.
About 30 hampers were being prepared last week for delivery locally and to a half-dozen surrounding communities, with
volunteers delivering hampers in round trips that can go 25 miles or more. They also note a high need among single-parent families, Bell said.
In Carman about 130 families and individuals were slated to receive a hamper last Thursday afternoon, said Carman Christmas Cheer Board chairperson Brenda Bryson.
This year they’re delighted to be including children’s toys in these hampers, all of which were donated through their local Grade 6 class’s toy drive this year. Residents give very generously and dedicated volunteers come back every year to make it all happen, Bryson said.
People do it out of a sense of giving back at this time of year, she said. “If we truly want to show love at Christmas, we give to the less fortunate,” she said.
All Christmas hampers delivered across the province come after a referral from a social service worker in the area, or from school teachers or community ministers aware of local families’ financial struggles.
Need for food aid doesn’t diminish after the holidays.
Local clergy say the need usually grows as winter wears on, with January being an especially tough month for many. [email protected]
“Ifwetrulywanttoshow loveatChristmas,wegive tothelessfortunate.”
– BRENDA BRYSON, VOLUNTEER CO-ORDINATOR AT THE CARMAN CHRISTMAS CHEER BOARD