Communities are coming together across Rocky View County (RVC) to support those in need during the holiday season with a Christmas hamper.
Cheryl Longeway, a coordinator of the Crossfield Christmas Hamper program, said the hampers help make the holidays special for everyone.
“We are really lucky we have a lot of amazing business sponsors and individual sponsors,” Longeway said. “We try to personalize every hamper.”
Last year, the program organized by the Crossfield Fire Department gave out 60 hampers to people living in and around Crossfield.
Already the program has received 34 requests for hampers this year, more than double the number received last year at this time when they had 13 requests.
“People are in need,” Longeway said. “When I say that I mean they don't just need a hamper at Christmas, they need a hamper now. So [there have been] a lot of tears, people are saying, ‘We don't know how we would have Christmas without you.’”
Hampers are filled with a lot more food than just a turkey. Longeway said a woman told her last year she was able to make the food last for about a month and a half.
Personalized gifts for kids under 18 are included in the hampers, gift cards to the local grocery store, Chamber bucks to spend at local businesses, as well as pajamas sized for each family member if they are interested.
“You'd be amazed to see how many people are excited about pajamas,” Longeway added. “I had one lady say to me that she hadn't bought anything in 15 years for herself.”
On top of that, Longeway asks each family if they need to include any pet food in their hampers.
With the demand for hampers increasing, organizers have noticed that grocery donations are down.
Longeway said she usually takes on the task of accepting requests and talking to families while her fellow coordinator and sister, Angela Wigglesworth, handles the donations, sponsors, and building of the hampers.
“(She) is very good at seeking donations,” Longeway said.
Local businesses, churches, schools, the local hockey league, and many individual volunteers and donors in Crossfield help to make the hamper program a success.
Over $3,500 was raised for the hamper program at the Christmas Farmer’s Market in Crossfield, and donations are yet to be collected at Twinklefest in Crossfield, which takes place on Dec. 1.
Families have the option to sponsor individual hampers, and local firefighters also work at the mall to collect donations.
On Dec. 16, Crossfield firefighters will be working hard to deliver each hamper to local families.
“I do not ask for proof of financial need,” Longeway said about the application process. “It's because that person who's asking for a hamper might be my neighbour.”
Longeway said it’s a small community and she doesn’t want to deter anyone from reaching out for help.
“It takes great courage and bravery to phone and request a hamper,” she added.
The requests for hampers are confidential and Longeway guaranteed that she is the only one who will see who applies aside from the actual person delivering the hamper.
While the deadline for applications to receive personalized toys in hampers is Dec. 1, Longeway said the program won’t turn away any requests later in December.
“If someone calls us after that date, we will still put a hamper together, it won't be personalized, but it will still be the things they need to make their Christmas wonderful,” Longeway said.
Christmas Hampers in Irricana
Down the road a bit, in Irricana, the Irricana Food Bank is also busily preparing for its Christmas hamper program.
Treasurer of the Irricana food bank, Judy Adams, and her family have organized the program in their community for nearly two decades, according to Adams.
She said they put together roughly 25 hampers each year, and so far they haven’t noticed an increase in requests this year.
Those who would like to request a hamper in Irricana are asked to call Adams or the local food bank at 403-935-4911 and the hampers can be picked up in December.
The program’s success is made possible by donations from the Irricana Lions Club, the local fire station, as well as local residents, and with help from the Kathryn Irricana Keoma (KIK) Seniors Centre, Adams said.
The hampers include a full Christmas dinner, gifts for the kids, as well as extra items that should last families about a month, she added.
Any leftover items are donated to the seniors of Irricana, she said, noting that nothing is wasted.
“If somebody lives outside the area and it's Christmas time, we'll always put a hamper together [for them],” Adams said.
A call came in one year from a mom of three who didn’t live within the district covered by Irricana asking for a hamper, and they were quick to help her out, Adams said.
“She was very pleased and happy,” Adams said. “We don't let anybody go hungry.”
Christmas Hampers in Beiseker
The Village of Beiseker also has its own hamper program for residents in and around the Village.
People seeking support can call the Village office at 403-947-3774 or contact Community Links’ Beiseker branch to fill out a confidential application to obtain one of the Christmas hampers.
Donation boxes are set up throughout the village to collect non-perishable food items and unwrapped gifts for the hamper program.