Majors Chris and Claudette Pilgrim of The Salvation Army want Guelph to know about the significant impact of the Christmas Assistance Program in the lives of people in need during the holidays. Through donations of money and toys, families and individuals are provided with food and gifts so that they can celebrate the holiday season when they otherwise would not be able to do so.
While overseeing a donation kettle, Chris was once approached by a young man who shared his meaningful story. "This young man donated a toonie, noting that it wasn't very much, but that he couldn't pass by a kettle without giving something. The Salvation Army was the only reason that his family was ever able to celebrate Christmas while he was growing up. This program made a significant difference in this young man's life, and now he is working and able to give back. It's beautiful."
The Christmas Assistance Program raises money through donation kettles at various locations throughout the city. The money raised is used to buy food at wholesale prices, which is then packed into hampers. Some funds are also allocated to providing emergency food, clothing, shelter and aid over the difficult winter months.
"We distribute three different types of hampers in Guelph. Each hamper includes a Christmas Dinner meal and three to four days of food. There is the traditional turkey meal. We also have a cultural meal, which consists of chicken, rice, and chickpeas. And there is a hamper for individuals. It’s a bit smaller and has a chicken with all the fixings instead of a turkey," explains Beverleigh Broughton, director of Community and Family Services.
Providing gifts along with food hampers for families with children is also a part of the Christmas Assistance Program. Toys are distributed for children aged 0-11 and gift cards of $25 are provided for those aged 12-16.
Between volunteers and collaboration with other community agencies and organizations, numerous people work together to make sure that the Christmas Assistance Program meets as many needs as possible. Some years, as many as four thousand families and individuals receive hampers and toys, with around twelve hundred of those hampers put together by the Salvation Army directly.
Chris and Claudette see the Christmas Assistance Program as an embodiment of the core beliefs of The Salvation Army. “The Salvation Army began as a way of helping and providing for those who were down and out and forgotten by society. That has always been our mandate right from the beginning - to be able to meet needs where we can, that is our heartbeat,” Claudette explains. Chris follows, “And this is about providing hope when people feel that they have no hope and providing dignity to people in need. And we do this through the generosity of our donors and volunteers.”
Anyone interested in receiving a hamper fills out an application for the program. The Salvation Army partners with a group of approximately fourteen agencies, collectively called the Christmas Holiday Bureau, who collaborate together using a common application process. Applications are vetted through a single Salvation Army database so that there is no duplication and so that the highest numbers of needs are met. Some of the Bureau partners include Ontario Works, the Neighbourhood Coalition, Hope House, the Drop-in Centre, the Food Bank, and Beginnings to name a few.
Beverleigh highlights the importance of having different groups involved. “Some of those agencies may pack their own hampers, but we all use the same application process. This helps to make sure that there is no duplication and that no one falls between the cracks. A neighbourhood group may have contact with someone that the church may not.”
The deadline for submitting an application for the Christmas Assistance Program is Friday December 7th. “We always guarantee people will have food for Christmas, so even if they are needing assistance after the deadline, they can come to our office at 210 Victoria Rd. S.,” says Beverleigh.
She continues, “Sometimes people in need don’t look like people in need. One year we had a middle-class family where both parents had cancer and their jobs were compromised. It affected their ability to provide Christmas for their family. We were able to step in and help.”
Chris, Claudette, and Beverleigh all emphasize that the program is there to help anyone who is in need without discrimination. “The bottom line is that this makes a difference in the lives of people.”
The Salvation Army is the second largest provider of social assistance in Canada.
TO DONATE OR APPLY: click here
TOY DROP OFF LOCATIONS: Stone Road Mall (atrium and Toys R Us), Wal-Mart on Woodlawn, all fire stations, Guelph Toyota, Canadian Tire Stores, and The Salvation Army