More than 70 volunteers swarmed the Creston Room at the Creston and District Community Complex on Monday to pack Christmas hampers, part of an annual program overseen by the Creston Ministerial Association.
The need was great this year — 485 hampers were packed for Creston Valley families, 35 more than the planned 450, a goal based on last year’s numbers.
“We thought we were being generous — 450 is high,” said Tom Greentree, pastor of Erickson Covenant Church and ministerial association president.
This is the second year online registration has been offered, and he felt it was possible that that option makes it easier for those in need to sign up, including those who should have, and didn’t, in years past.
“Perhaps we’re better able to access the need,” he said.
Regardless of the sign-up method, the fact is that those in need are there, a point driven home as volunteers fill boxes.
“It just makes me realize how many people in the community need help,” said Tracy Floer, volunteering for a second year. “It blows my mind. Until you do it, you don’t realize how badly others need it.”
Cherie Luke, a first-time packer, was pleased to finally see the packing process, having collected donations for it many times.
“It gives you a different perspective,” she said. “I didn’t have the experience where I didn’t have a Christmas without this.”
This year was also Signe Miller’s first time packing, and she was thoroughly enjoying selecting toys for children of specific ages and matching them with appropriate hampers.
“It’s a ton of fun,” she said. “It’s like being Santa. It’s sad that so many need help. But this is such a giving community that everyone shows up to give help.”
A Grade 6/7 class from Canyon-Lister Elementary School also got in on the action, their many hands helping the process along at a swift pace.
“Once the starting gun went off, it went very fast,” said Greentree.
The hampers were packed with staples — cereal, soup and other non-perishables — then topped off with books (donated through the Columbia Basin Alliance for Literacy), candies, oranges, toys and more. Even Creston Fire Rescue got in on the action, with smoke detectors added to the mix.
By mid-afternoon Monday, the packed hampers were ready for recipients to pick up yesterday morning, and, if they wanted, add a bag of apples or onions, or things like pet food.
Throughout the packing, Greentree was constantly interrupted by people bringing in cash donations to help offset the hamper program’s $23,000 cost. Any surplus is used by the ministerial association throughout the year to help community members with medical and other expenses — which makes the program much more than simply a means of delivering Christmas cheer.
“People would just drop off hundreds of dollars,” he said.