The Vermilion Lions Club, The Bargain Shop, and Princess and the Purse, and others collaborated to bring holiday cheer to low-income residents throughout the region in the weeks leading up to Christmas.
The Lion’s Club has run Santas Anonymous, a charity that fundraises for grocery gift cards for families and toys for children, for over 40 years. Families in need apply for assistance and obtain referrals for the service, which maintains strict confidentiality.
On December 9, Santas Anonymous delivered 46 hampers to families across Clandonald, Minburn, Mannville, and Vermilion. These will benefit 181 people, 101 of whom are children, which is a record high in the last three years. “The families will have gift cards to buy Christmas dinner and the kids will have something under the tree. What more could you want?” said Lion’s Club member Pat.
The Lions made the move from food hampers to grocery gift cards a few years ago to reflect families’ needs. For example, the peanut butter included as a staple in food hampers was unusable to some families with allergies, and a turkey was impossible to cook for a family with no roaster. Additionally, the gift cards provide more options for multicultural preferences.
The Lions’ annual toy drive began shortly after Remembrance Day, with white boxes for cash and gift cards placed at the counters of businesses around town, and wrapped boxes for toy donations placed in schools and other locations. The Lions’ Club compiled a wish list detailing applicants’ specific requests, and sent it to local businesses to assist community members in selecting desired items to donate.
The Bargain Shop in Vermilion has been a major donor to the toy drive since 2014. On November 16, they began asking every customer if they would like to purchase a toy from the wish list, buy a gift card or prepaid VISA, or make a cash donation toward Santas Anonymous. This culminated in their annual Fill a Sleigh Day on December 9, when 5% of all sales for the day were donated to Santas Anonymous. About half of the toys donated to Santas Anonymous came from The Bargain Shop.
In the week preceding Fill a Sleigh Day, the ATCO Gas warehouse became the site of Santa’s workshop, as volunteer elves helped sort toys according to children’s wish lists. Head Elf Dolores set up tables, organized and directed volunteers to fill boxes, posted on Facebook for specific requests, tended the workshop all day long every day so people could drop off donations, and ensured everything was packed and sealed and ready to go—a commitment that has lasted over three decades, ever since she first moved to town and received support herself.
Solo parents weren’t forgotten in the gift-giving. The Princess and the Purse is an organization founded in Moncton, N.B. to provide gift bags to single moms during the holidays. Alberta’s East Central chapter is based out of Irma and collaborates with Santas Anonymous to gift shampoo, conditioner, socks, razors, shave gel, deodorant, scarves, lotion, gum, and purses to low-income mothers alongside toys for their children.
The Lions Club is grateful to The Bargain Shop, Princess and the Purse, and all the other businesses, organizations, and individuals that so generously helped them reach their target of $17,000. As of Saturday, December 9, they were still $6,500 short of that goal. Meanwhile, their goal of $4,500 in toy donations was exceeded by December 8. Toy donations not used this year will be put in storage for next year.
“We could not operate this program without the communities’ and volunteers’ support,” said Bargain Shop Manager Cori deWolde. “The community has been really wonderful in filling these kids’ wish lists,” echoed Lion’s Club member Pat. “I’m always surprised at how the community comes through to support these families.”
If you would like to apply for service but have missed the deadline, call Cliff at 780-853-4240 for forms, eligibility requirements, and last-minute deliveries. If you would like to donate to the cause, money for food gift cards is most needed at this point and can be donated at Scotiabank, the home of Santas Anonymous.