The annual Toys for Joys campaign is not letting COVID-19 stop it. The program — presented by the South Cariboo Elizabeth Fry Society (SCEFS) in partnership with Interior Savings — will be going ahead on Friday, Nov. 20, and area residents are invited to drop off donations of new, unwrapped toys or cash at the Tim Hortons at the Esso Travel Centre between 8 and 11 a.m.
This year SCEFS is also holding a Santa for Seniors program, where community members can help seniors who need a little assistance or who will be alone over the holidays.
The Toys for Joys program has been running in Ashcroft since 2009, and usually features a free breakfast for those who drop off donations. Last year a take-out option was added to the sit-down breakfast, and proved very popular, but SCEFS executive director Trish Schachtel says that neither option was viable this year due to COVID-19 protocols.
“We knew we wanted to do something, though,” she says. “I was talking with [Tim Hortons manager] Damian Couture about Toys for Joys, because they do coffee for the CP Holiday Train, and I asked if maybe they could bring coffee for the event. We were thinking about how we could do something downtown, maybe have a drive-thru with coffee and doughnuts.
“He said they can’t really do anything off-site or where crowds might gather, then said ‘Why don’t you have it up here and we could offer something? We could set up a tent like the Lions did for Smile Cookies and people could drop off items.’ Damian said they wanted to make sure the community was taken care of and have the momentum of the Christmas spirit.”
The E. Fry Society works with the Community Resource Society, so that when families who need support register for Christmas hampers they can also fill out a form for Toys for Joys, then come and pick up a toy or two between Dec. 9 and 11. This usually happens at the SCEFS office, but because of physical distancing requirements it will be taking place in the seniors’ centre at 601 Bancroft Street in Ashcroft, above the SCEFS office.
“The Ashcroft-Cache Creek seniors have generously provided that space for us to use,” says Schachtel. “It’s a lovely community collaboration. We’ll call people and book a time for them to come, so there will be no crowds, and we’ll have a chance to clean and follow all COVID-19 protocols.”
Last year’s Toys for Joys event collected more than 200 toys and $1,250 in cash donations, including funding from Second Time Around. Schachtel says that new toys for children aged 18 years and younger are gratefully accepted, and the cash is used to purchase additional toys. Anyone who makes a donation will receive a coupon for a free hot beverage from Tim Hortons.
Schachtel adds that anyone who cannot make a donation on Nov. 20 can call the SCEFS office at (250) 453-9656 to arrange a time to drop things off. “We’d love to have everything by Dec. 4. We go through everything to see what we have, and if there’s a shortage in some age groups we got out and buy things. Teen and tween boys are the toughest category.”
The SCEFS board passed a motion saying that the organization needed to shop locally. “Last year the stores here were really generous and helped us pick things out.”
Schachtel says that based on the need they are seeing at the food bank, there will be high demand for Toys for Joys. “It’s been an exceptionally rough year.”
That need is also behind the Santa for Seniors initiative, which is for people aged 65 and older who aren’t going to be with family this Christmas and who could use some extra support.
“We seek them out at the food bank and during the Christmas hamper registration,” explains Schachtel. “If anyone knows of a senior who could use a little extra love over the holidays then give us a call.”
Each person taking part has a note with some information about them. “It might say ‘Man, 75, has a Pomeranian dog, likes Louis L’Amour novels, needs warm socks.’ Someone would pick that note, then go off and fill a Christmas bag with things for that individual.
“Interior Savings takes some, Home Hardware takes some, and we have private people in the community who will come and pick some up and match the gifts to seniors. It’s all anonymous, but it’s a way of giving back and helping out someone who needs a little love.”
Schachtel says that anyone who wants to take part in Santa for Seniors can call the SCEFS office to get information — “They can say ‘I’ll take two female and two male’” — and book a time to drop off their items. “We hope to have all those gifts in by Friday, Dec. 11, then we will organize them and have them distributed between Dec. 16 and 23.
“The gift bags are wonderful. They have things like coffee, tea, warm socks, a throw blanket. People rarely ask for anything extravagant. If people know of anyone who might benefit, call us. We try to reach as many people as possible but we can’t reach everyone.”