With COVID-19, and keeping safety protocols in mind, the West Prince Christmas Hampers Group (WPCHG) had to make many adjustments this past holiday season.
“We weren’t sure when we really started ramping up in September what things we’re going to look like by December,” said Corina Bolo, a spokesperson for the group. “We knew we had to devise a system if we were in a complete lockdown we would still have the hampers because families would be counting on them.”
The WPCHG is a sub-committee of the West Prince Caring Cupboard with representatives from various charitable groups in the region. The committee came together to streamline the distribution of Christmas hampers in the West Prince area.
One of the biggest changes the group made last year was asking for monetary contributions instead of accepting food donations. Another was with the hampers themselves.
“The biggest pivot we had to do, instead of putting the hampers together right from scratch from the different distribution points, we ordered pre-packaged boxes of groceries,” said Ms Bolo.
To do so, the group approached the four local grocery stores in the region about this, who completely embraced the idea.
“They went to town making sure we got the best possible prices for the boxes,” said Ms Bolo. “We had given them a list of what we wanted in them and they watched the sales and they put them together for us by early December. That was a huge help.”
However, ordering the pre-packed boxes was ‘a leap of faith’.
“We weren’t sure what was going to come in financially, but we knew we had to take that step,” said Ms Bolo. “We couldn’t wait and get the money first then the order the boxes, it wouldn’t have worked with timing.”
The boxes were ordered based on the previous year’s numbers and upped as the group was sure the numbers would be higher in 2020 due to the pandemic.
And it was the right call. In 2019, 239 hampers were given out. In 2020, it was 252 hampers.
Any boxes left over were given to the West Prince Caring Cupboard to distribute throughout January and February.
Despite the number of people needing help, this year’s hamper season was a positive experience thanks to the continuous support from the community, said Ms Bolo.
“We just had so much support, as always, from the West Prince community, but we kind of wondered with COVID and the restrictions how it would go because we had to change up some of how we did things, but it met and succeeded our expectations,” she said.
For the 2019 Christmas season, the group had focused on gathering donations of toiletry items for the hampers, reaching out to pharmacies and dentist offices.
“This year we simplified that,” said Ms Bolo. “It was the kind of year you really wanted to simplify things.”
The only items they sought this year was toothbrushes, toothpaste and hand sanitizer.
“They all jumped onboard with product and money donations,” said Ms Bolo.
ADL donated all the milk and cheese for the hampers, various fishermen associations and wind energy companies made generous donations and all the produce for the hampers was donated by local growers, like WP Griffins, Clohossey Farms, O’Leary Produce, Webb’s Vegetables and more.
Toys For Tots made donations so the hampers going to families could have toys and the PEI Literacy Alliance donated books for the hampers. Tignish’s Royal Star Fisheries donated trucks so the group could transport all the items around and also helping out was Hope Centre Clubhouse in Alberton by donating to the WPCHG the use of their bingo hall.
“We were able to get all our stuff in there and organized to go to the other distribution centres,” explained Ms Bolo. “It was a good central location.”
Unfortunately, due to the pandemic and public health restrictions, there was less volunteers than normal helping this year at the different distributions sites.
“We missed that,” said Ms Bolo. “Last year, a hockey team came into one of the locations and helped packed, but we couldn’t handle groups like that this year, but we did have some new volunteers at the distribution groups and we had 20 year plus people that have been doing it for decades and a number of strong, young backs, and not so young strong backs, who really helped carrying the boxes and produce and getting them in and out... That was a huge help as well.”
Having the central location to organize the hampers meant also the individualized distribution centres needed less volunteers, which was good under the circumstances of the pandemic.
“In a lot of cases, they changed their method of delivery to the families slightly too,” said Ms Bolo. “In most cases, it was a touchless delivery. In some cases, the cars would drive up, the staff would be put in the trunk and the person would leave. Or if it was delivered to a home, it was set on the step and then the family would take the food.”
Looking to next year and beyond, Ms Bolo said the group is seriously looking at continuing with the pre-packed boxes.
“We will decide for sure in the fall, but it really worked well,” she said.
Finally, Ms Bolo said the group is always grateful for the support they receive from the community every year.
“It never fails to amaze us how generous people are,” she said.