For two days each December, the Creston Room at the Creston and District Community Complex is abuzz with activity, as volunteers swarmed to organize and pack Christmas hampers for the Creston Ministerial Association.
This year, about 400 were packed, considerably less than the 485 packed in 2012, of which only about 430 were distributed.
“What this reflects is more accuracy in how we are getting referrals,” said Creston Ministerial Association president Tom Greentree. “It does not, I believe, represent a drop in need — only the increasing accuracy of our referral and registration system.”
The community wasn’t any less generous, though, with donations of food, toys, gifts and cash pouring in right up until packing time on Monday. And after those donations were made, more people took the time to work on the project.
“Well over 300 amazing community volunteers served with heart, soul and strength over the course of the two hamper days,” said Greentree. “It’s like the community of Creston stands up and says, ‘We care. You might be struggling to make ends meet. You might feel like you are barely keeping your head above water. And though we don’t know the details of your situation, we want you to know that you are not alone. We want you to know that Creston cares.’ ”
That caring spirit came from all ages, with volunteers ranging from elementary school students to seniors.
“Having young people involved in the hamper program is so critical,” said Greentree. “Not only are they an important part of the hamper work force —and believe me, they are — they are seeing generosity in action, they are looking into the eyes of the families for whom this food and these gifts are making a difference, and that experience has an important role in the shaping of these kids into kind, generous, socially-engaged community citizens.”
Some, he added, even earned tears and hugs as they helped load hampers into vehicles when recipients picked them up on Tuesday.
Although the organizing and packing are mammoth tasks, the atmosphere was nothing less than happy.
“People are serious about their work, but they’re smiling,” said Terri Goulder, who was volunteering for her second year. “I’ve been blessed with so much, so giving my time and energy is the least I could do. Most people come in just because they want to help their neighbour.”
That sentiment is at the top of the list for other volunteers, as well.
“You want to be part of it,” said first-time hamper volunteer Muriel Buhr, who spearheads annual shipments of apples, clothes and toys to Shamattawa, Man. “No one is here for themselves. They’re here for everyone else.”
Dolly Kaetler, who has volunteered with the program for about 20 years — back when it was at the Trinity United Church and packers had to scurry between the pews — said she volunteers to earn her monthly cheque.
“I volunteer to give back what I get with my pension cheque,” she said. “What saddens me is we have so many working poor who need help to get through the holiday season. …
“Besides, it takes us oldies to show the young people how to do it.”
And volunteering with the program is a great way to embody the spirit of the season.
“I’ve had help, and now it’s my turn to give back,” said Gloria Preston, volunteering for her first time. “Christmas is about giving. If we had Christmas every day of the year, maybe it would help the world.”