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Providing Christmas for 2,000 families

The 'store' is open at Christmas Amalgamated and volunteers are busy making sure everything is organized for those looking to provide their families with a special holiday season even when money is tight.
November 22, 2013 - 3:32 PM

KAMLOOPS – Christmas, with all the presents and yummy meals, is a time of year many kids look forward to, but what happens when your family can barely make the rent or put food on the table? Christmas Amalgamated steps in to help spread the cheer.

For 37 years Sally Whitson has coordinated hampers and gifts for the families unable to provide put a special holiday dinner on the table or presents under the tree and while she doesn't think the need has increased over the years the awareness around the program has increased.

Whitson admits the need appears higher in Kamloops than in other communities, but the numbers haven't changed much over the years. She never turns anyone away that qualifies for a hamper and the moms (or dads) are the only ones allowed to 'shop' for the gifts. They can pick out clothing, ornaments, gifts and stocking stuffers for each child. They must bring their own bag this year.

Whitson says teenagers, and especially boys, are often left out when people donate items but she takes groups of smaller items to create gift baskets so they can still feel special during the holidays. Being able to pick out and wrap the gifts for their kids gives a sense of pride to the parents who come in for help.

For many it is hard to ask for help and for others it has become a way of life. Whitson and the volunteers at Christmas Amalgamated try to make it as easy as possible. While there is special criteria that needs to be met in order to qualify, and it varies from situation to situation, a person can register, pick out gifts and be out the door in half an hour if they're a quick shopper. Of course as it gets closer to Christmas it gets busier and that may take a bit longer, she says.

Each family also receives a hamper filled with the goodies that help make Christmas dinner. Potatoes, stuffing, cranberry jelly, vegetables, fruit, cake and a turkey (or at least a gift certificate for one) are provided to each family either through being 'adopted' or directly from the charity.

The registered charity relies solely on the kindness of the community. The 'store' space is usually donated. This year the space at 1800 Tranquille Road next to Craig's Bakery has been donated by the landlord. All the donations of gifts, food and funds come from businesses, groups and individuals in the community though monetary donations have slowly declined over the years as service groups lose membership and deal with their own hardships.

About 200 volunteers also come out at some point during the season to help build or deliver hampers, maintain the 'store', sort and pack or work the front desk. This year the space needed such a big cleanup before they could move in, Whitson had Kamloops Correctional Centre inmates out to help clean and then move everything out of storage. Another volunteer  also set up, and maintains, a Facebook page for the group.

Whitson says they are always open to new, unused toys, gifts, food and clothes but are willing to accept used winter coats in good condition. Donations are also being collected through a toy drive in Westsyde.

To contact a reporter for this story, email jstahn@infotelnews.ca, call 250-819-3723 or tweet @JennStahn.

News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2013
InfoTel News Ltd

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