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Creston’s Christmas hamper program shifting to gift card care packages due to COVID-19

The Creston Ministerial Association is hoping that the community will help them raise their projected costs of $50,000 to cover the program’s expenses.

Due to COVID-19, the Creston Ministerial Association’s annual Christmas hamper program will be distributing care packages containing gift cards and other goods instead of hamper boxes to those in need this year, and they are hoping that the community will help them raise their projected costs of $50,000 to cover the program’s expenses.

“We recognize that there’s disappointment in this. It’s not ideal. We wrestled and wrestled with how best to do this,” said Tom Greentree, a member of the ministerial and a pastor at the Erickson Covenant Church. “We don’t like the gift card idea, but in light of all the limitations, what can you do?”

In previous years, Ministerial president Hermen Koehoorn said the program would see around $20,000 to $30,000 in donations, which would come in the form of cash, groceries, toys and more.

READ MORE: Volunteers pack 430 Christmas hampers for Creston Ministerial Association

“But now we’re having to basically give money so people can buy that. The reason why we’re going to the card system this year is because getting groceries is always an essential service,” said Koehoorn, who’s also a pastor at New Life Church. “If COVID resurges, panic hits and they shut everything down, people can still go to the grocery store and use that card. Even if we can’t pack anything for them, we can find a way to get them a card.”

Koehoorn highlighted that the projected additional expenses of $20,000 comes from an increase in grocery prices.

“There’s supply and extra need, and when you put those together, we’re projecting another $20,000 of expense that will incur. You can give a gift card for a few dollars, but it doesn’t go that far anymore nowadays,” said Koehoorn. “We want to be generous but we also want to be financially responsible too, and it’s finding that balance. That’s where the $50,000 comes from.”

Koehoorn noted that another factor that influenced the Ministerial’s decision to go with gift cards was the fact that the Creston Valley Gleaners Society wasn’t able to donate this year, as they have been dealing with their own adversities due to the pandemic.

“(Gleaners) were a huge donater of food and goods. They knew it was coming each year, so when they would do their orders, they would bring in a lot and donate a lot. That isn’t going to happen this year, because they’re hardly able to keep up with what they’ve got going on,” he said.

Traditionally, the two-day event would begin on a Monday, where hundreds of volunteers would gather at the rec centre to assemble hamper boxes that would be filled with food and other goods. The next day, registered families, couples or individuals would swing by to pick up their boxes.

READ MORE: Creston’s Christmas hamper fund helps hundreds

This year’s hamper event, however, has been limited to one day and will take place on Dec. 16.

“The hope is we’re going to set-up in the Holy Cross Catholic Church parking lot. The beauty of that parking lot is that the rec centre is right above, so we’re going to stage people in their vehicles so they don’t have to meet in a building,” said Koeehoorn. “We’ll have people coordinating up there to send people to drive down to the parking lot. When they get down there, we’re going to have a gift card for them and a care package.”

Despite the shift in their approach, Greentree said that he hopes that the Ministerial’s efforts show that they “really do care” about the community.

“We want people to have a joyful Christmas, and to recognize that when they’re in a pinch or on the margins, that this is the kind of thing to boost their spirits,” said Greentree.

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