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Christmas Hampers Spark Hope for Families in Need

November 1st, 20141 Comment

By Josie Hammond-Thrasher

Proud smiles light up the faces of 10 girls and a leader standing behind a table of food lovingly chosen to fill a Christmas Bureau of Edmonton hamper. Elaun Cable Lind captured the moment with a photo of the girls from her Sparks and Brownies units just before Christmas last year.

Elaun knew the hamper would help bring hope to an Edmonton family in need, warming their bellies and hearts. She knew the girls who helped create the hamper would learn about the importance of sharing and giving during the Christmas season. What she didn’t know was how delivering the hamper would forever change her experience of Christmas.

“I think it’s culturally universal that there’s a big feast that brings people together — it’s about friendship and family,” says Elaun, an Edmonton leader with the Girls Guides of Canada.

Gathering around the table for a festive meal at Christmastime is such a basic tradition for so many of us, yet others in our city who struggle to meet their family’s needs ache even more at this time of the year.

For 61,000 Edmontonians in need in 2013, the simplest of Christmas traditions — eating together — would not have been possible without the help of the Christmas Bureau of Edmonton. Established in 1940, The Christmas Bureau has a 74-year tradition of providing a festive meal to families, seniors and individuals in need in our city.

Sharing the spirit of Christmas giving

For almost 20 years, Elaun has donated money at Christmas Bureau desks in Edmonton’s malls. “If I had an extra $20 in my pocket, I’d drop it in the donation box at their table,” she says. “That was my own personal Christmas tradition.”

Last year, she decided to share the spirit of giving to the Christmas Bureau with her Brownies and Sparks units. For years, Brownies and Sparks have taken part in the Edmonton Girl Guides Holiday Spirit Challenge, doing a community service project in lieu of a Christmas gift exchange. Elaun encouraged the girls and other leaders to sponsor a Christmas Bureau hamper as their project; a challenge the 28 girls, aged five through eight, their families and the leaders embraced wholeheartedly.

“There are people that don’t get to have Christmas dinner without help from the community. That’s a hard concept for a lot of kids to imagine. It was a chance to learn about the spirit of giving,” Elaun says.

The Christmas Bureau matched Elaun and the girls with a family of five kids, aged one to 13, and a single mom. Using a suggested list of hamper items from the Christmas Bureau, the girls each chose foods they wanted to share with their sponsored family.

“They got excited about sharing their favourite foods with someone else,” says Elaun. “They learned they didn’t need a present; it wasn’t about them anymore, it was about giving not receiving.”

With the hamper stuffed full of festive food, Elaun tried to call the mom to arrange dropping off the box.  She discovered the family’s phone had been disconnected, highlighting the fact that the family needed help.

Elaun and her husband, Jay, took a chance and drove over to the family’s house in the hope they’d be home. As she walked towards the door a week before Christmas, Elaun remembers thinking it didn’t feel like Christmas for her yet.

The mom answered the door with two sweet-faced children at her side, gazing up at Elaun. “The little ones were so excited when they saw the hamper — they were squealing. It was so amazing, so moving,” says Elaun. “And not just for me; my husband had the same feeling. Right then we decided we would do it again.”

Replacing hunger and stress with hope

Moments like this took place all over Edmonton during the Christmas season last year. In 2013, over 450 families, individuals and organizations purchased and delivered food hampers to over 1,100 Christmas Bureau families through the Hamper Sponsorship Program. Volunteers at the Christmas Bureau stuffed and delivered a further 1,800 hampers to Edmontonians in need. And, they helped distribute food gift cards to families who missed the hamper deadline or needed to purchase a festive meal that suited their cultural or dietary needs.

“As Edmonton’s inclusive Christmas charity, we truly are about neighbour helping neighbour during the festive season,” says Wendy Batty, executive director of the Christmas Bureau. “We rely on the generosity of Edmontonians to raise the $1.8-million it costs to provide a festive meal to Edmontonians in need.”

Edmontonians helped by the Christmas Bureau receive more than a meal — it’s Christmas with hope, dignity and the knowledge that there is support from the community. In the words of one Christmas Bureau client, “No one expects to fall on hard times, but it’s nice to know if it ever happens, Edmonton has organizations like the Christmas Bureau to help you out. Thank you for making that one Christmas where I needed help a truly special one.”

Providing hampers this Christmas

This year, Elaun plans to sponsor a Christmas Bureau hamper again. “We have 17 Sparks and 20 Brownies in our units this year, so we’re thinking about sponsoring two families because we’re such a big group,” says Elaun. “I want these girls and the other leaders I work with to experience what I did.”

To sponsor a hamper or donate to the Christmas Bureau, visit christmasbureau.ca or call 780-421-XMAS (9627). The deadline for sponsoring a Christmas Bureau hamper is December 12.

Josie Hammond-Thrasher is the communications and marketing coordinator at the Christmas Bureau of Edmonton.

Reader Comments (1)

Dominique Hudlin said on November 5, 2016

Hello. I'm a single mother looking for help for christmas. Email is DominiqueRyley2012@gmail.com

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