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Giving Back this Holiday Season

With the coming new year and holiday festivities happening for many, some among us will come together with friends and family to celebrate another year with parties and dinners. While we celebrate, it is easy to lose sight of how the holidays are for the less fortunate, those many who will not have the same abundance many of us are grateful for. While we enjoy what we have, it is important to remember those who do not have similar blessings.  

Across the city are countless volunteer-based organizations which rely on the generosity of Winnipeggers to help maintain regular operations. A common theme among Winnipeg’s many charitable organizations is the continual need for volunteers.  

Among the many is the Salvation Army, which operates a food hamper program for Christmas. This year, they are asking volunteers to help deliver over 6,000 remaining hampers of food and toys before Christmas Day. Salvation Army hopes to have drivers apply to deliver four or five hampers within three blocks of one another. 

While there are yearly volunteers who are continually relied on, there is always room for more helping hands. Anyone hoping to give their time or gifts can go to 895 Century Street between 9 a.m. and 8 p.m. on weekdays to help. People are invited to help make deliveries as there are still hampers which need to be delivered. 

Among other positions, they have been hoping to fill that of people holding Christmas kettles in public spaces to collect donations. Their current goal is $300,000 through the holiday season, which they are above three-quarters of the way to achieving.  

Last year, the Salvation Army delivered more than 18,000 hampers, while this holiday season, they expect to deliver more than 19,000 as inflation has caused many across the city to reconsider their grocery bills as each meal has become more expensive.  

The Salvation Army is a Christian charity that has been in operation since 1865 when it was founded in London to aid the less fortunate. The first Winnipeg branch was established in 1886 with the same intentions. In their 2022 report, the Salvation Army reported having delivered 359,000 food hampers across Canada last winter. Between their programs run in Canada and Bermuda (as they are an international organization), more than 2.7 million people were given aid of some sort from the Salvation Army. 

Salvation Army yearly report shows that 89 per cent of last year’s received money went to operating programs and services, with 11 per cent being spent on administrative and operating costs. 

Another significant aid program that relies on public support is Agape Table, a registered Canadian charity. Agape Table helps many around the city, from low-income families, people experiencing homelessness, low-income seniors, and people with disabilities, to access a healthy breakfast. Agape relies on the generosity of Manitobans, who can offer food, money, and time to volunteer with their program. 

In addition to offering breakfast to community members, Agape operates an emergency food bank with approximately 220 people coming through to utilize their services in partnership with Manitoba Harvest. Each month, Agape employs nine staff members and utilizes over two thousand hours of volunteer services. 

The 2022 fiscal report published by Agape Table shows a vast majority of their funds – approximately 90 per cent – came from public donations. Of the greater than $1 million collected by Agape Table last year, $334 thousand was spent on Food and Program costs, $243 thousand of which was spent on salaries and wages. $483 thousand was listed to have been spent on expenses, the largest sum going into advertising, which costs more than $60 thousand. At year-end, there was an excess of $240 thousand in positive income for the charity. 

For over a hundred years, the Christmas Cheer Board has acted around the holiday season to help all Manitobans to share in the celebrations. The non-denominational program offers gifts for children under 14 and assembles hampers to give to those in need this time of year. So far this season, they have produced more than 18,000 hampers to give away, while they have also given away more than 20,000 toys to kids.  

With hamper pickups taking place until December 29th, the Cheer Board is open to additional volunteers signing up to help however they can. Currently, there are over 300 volunteers in the program. In addition to volunteering to pack gift hampers, people can help by donating their vehicles for deliveries or by donating money to the cause. Food and toy donations are also acceptable ways of contributing.  

The Cheer Board has worked with the Manitoba Moose Teddy Bear Toss, the Winnipeg Jets toy drives, and the St. Vital Christmas Miracle to support families across Winnipeg through the holiday season. This year alone, the Cheer Board has seen an increase in applications for hampers as hard economic times have coincided with an increase in new Canadians seeking refuge from the war in Ukraine. 

In a statement from executive director Shawna Bell, she called the increase in demand for hampers “devastating that there are so many families across the city in such need this season.” 

The total applicants this season for hampers surpassed 20,000, 2,000 more than last year. The Cheer Board has closed applications as they cannot guarantee provisions for additional applicants. 

With the help of public and private donations, the Christmas Cheer Board continues to assist thousands of Winnipeggers. On December 1st, the Manitoba Metis Federation announced a donation of $50,000 to the Board, the largest public donation the Board has received this year. 

“As the Red River Metis government, we want to do our part to ensure that every child has a good Christmas, which is why we are once again doing our part to support the Christmas Cheer Board as they deliver upwards of 19,000 hampers, along with gifts, to families,” said MMF President David Chartrand. “We applaud the efforts of the Christmas Cheer Board and recognize the incredible effort of volunteers and staff for so many families, and we know that many others in the community are doing the same. Together, we can make sure that no child misses out on the magic of Christmas morning.” 

Harvest Manitoba, a staple of the province, has continually advertised a need for greater support as they have seen a usage increase of their services of 150 per cent since 2019. While money donations go a long way for Harvest, there are many hampers available in grocery stores across the province in which shoppers can leave spare nonperishable goods. There are some churches which offer the same opportunity for donations. 

As the cost of living continues to increase, those who have already been experiencing financial uncertainty and instability feel the impacts of inflation the most. While many of us can afford gifts for our loved ones, it is crucial that we bear in mind that we must help one another through charitable donations. 

It is our responsibility to each other to offer a helping hand to those less fortunate and to ensure that no one has to go to bed hungry this holiday season. 

– Matthew Harrison, U Multicultural

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