Christmas hampers look different this year due to pandemic protocols

Even though things are going to look a little different this holiday season, those in need still reach out for help and to make that happen several community organizations are doing whatever it takes to make it work.

Prince George Council of Seniors

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The Prince George Council of Seniors are still offering the opportunity to access Christmas hampers to those who are low income and 65+ in the community and to be eligible to apply they must be in receipt of the Guaranteed Income Supplement.

This year due to pandemic protocols set in place the council cannot accept food donations and are asking for monetary donations, including gift cards to grocery stores.

Deadline for applications is Friday, Dec. 4 and deadline to donate is Dec. 15. 

There is a tax receipt available for those who donate $20 or more.

People accessing the program can submit an application form found online at www.pgcos.ca and clicking on Christmas Hampers and dropping it off (wearing a mask) to the Seniors Resource Centre, 712 Victoria Street or faxing it to 250-564-9155.

The staff and volunteers at the council of seniors will take on the task of purchasing food items to make up the hampers and then looking for volunteers to deliver.

"We're hoping to deliver a turkey and groceries to those in need because we're concerned about those who are vulnerable and can't get out to a grocery store," Lola-Dawn Fennell, general manager of the Prince George Council of Seniors, said.

The local council of seniors is looking to minimize the risk to those most vulnerable to COVID-19.

"This is all very new this year and we have a commitment to deliver a grocery hamper to needy seniors, "Fennell said. "We hope the community will be as generous as they have in previous years even if it looks a little different this year."

St. Vincent de Paul Society

As St. Vincent de Paul Society continues to feed those in need three meals a day, 365 days a year, they are once again offering their annual Christmas hampers to families in need who have children 19 years and younger living at home.

This year applications are taken until Dec. 4 by phone instead of in person to keep everyone safe. To access the correct phone number to use on which day of the week visit www.ssvdppg.com.

To keep everyone as safe as possible all hampers will be delivered on Dec. 21. There will be no opportunity to pick up the hampers.

Volunteers are needed to help with the process and Prince George residents are encouraged to visit the website ssvdppg.com to get information. 

The hampers will be put together at St. Mary's auditorium on Dec. 19 and 20 where there's space for the hampers and enough room for people to social distance while volunteering.

The situation being what it is, Bernie Goold, St. Vincent de Paul Society's executive director, said it has been very emotional for her.

In response to pandemic orders to restrict contact the drop-in centre has had to close its doors to sit-down meals and only provide a take out meal service where the connections with those in need are lost.

"It was so hard to do that, especially at Thanksgiving, because our facility doesn't allow us to do that for the numbers we're serving," Goold said.  "It would only allow us to serve 25 people at a time."

St. Vincent's drop in centre serves as many as 150 people during a meal service and to offer sit down meals and then push people out the door so the next round of 25 could enter after sanitization just wouldn't work, she added.

"It's not ideal but we have been blessed by the generosity of the people, businesses and organizations that have supported us throughout this time," Goold said. "We haven't missed one meal."

The Drop-In Centre used to have people come in for coffee and a muffin or other snack to tide them over until the next meal but since that's not happening there's a little something extra in the meal that gets taken away.

"I'm not looking forward to serving Christmas dinner as a take out meal," Goold said on a sigh. "But I have to at least glean something from this - we're still feeding those in need and we're so humbled by the people who have stepped up to help - the community has been incredible."

Salvation Army

The Salvation Army promise of 'giving hope today' seems to be of more importance this year than others, Major Neil Wilkinson of the local branch of the Salvation Army, said.

"Not only are we trying to bring hope to the most vulnerable people in our community but the idea of bringing hope to the community as a whole is something in our current situation I think is extremely important," Wilkinson added.

The Kettle Campaign has been reduced in size to stay within the pandemic guidelines. There are only six of a previous 12 locations where safety protocols can be accommodated in businesses in Prince George. 

Most of those locations were indoors and now most are outside locations.

Another conundrum is that many of the volunteers who used to help out with the campaign are older, who are most susceptible to COVID-19 and now the locations are mostly outdoors in the harsh winter weather, which is not ideal, to say the least, Wilkinson said. 

The Salvation Army is still in need of volunteers and are only asking for an hour-long commitment to the cause. The Kettle Campaign is the Salvation Army's biggest fundraiser with the goal of raising $250,000, which will keep the Food Bank open to those in need year round.

Another challenge is those who usually give during the holiday season may not be able to do so because of financial constraints as a result of the pandemic.

"People are being a bit more careful about their money right now and understandably so," Wilkinson said. 

People who wish to pledge money to the Kettle Campaign can do so online now through the #ChristmasChallenge where they are encouraging others in the community to meet or beat their pledge at sapg.ca.

The other challenge for the Salvation Army is the non-profit is not able to do the high volume of Christmas hampers they usually do so they've changed direction. 

"This year we're only doing vouchers, which are redeemable at local businesses," Wilkinson said.  

That means people accessing the vouchers will have to go to the businesses and get what they need that way. Applications are available online until Nov. 27 at sapg.ca or by calling 250-564-4000 to speak to a Christmas hamper team member.

"We're just trying to keep everybody safe by doing contactless applications," he added.

During the pandemic people accessing the food bank have been restricted as well, with only one person per family allowed in to accept a prepackaged food hamper.

"We feel very confident in our response to continue to meet needs while keeping people safe," Wilkinson said. 

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