Despite stringent COVID-19 protocols and major changes to how and what was collected, this year’s Christmas Hamper program went ahead as planned, distributing 171 hampers to provide some Christmas cheer to residents of Clinton, Cache Creek, Ashcroft, Spences Bridge, and the Bonaparte and Ashcroft bands.
The program — which is run by the Community Resource Society and is not affiliated with the Ashcroft or Clinton food banks — has been running for at least 35 years, says organizer Esther Lang. “It’s probably more than that, but we’d have to trace it back.”
Before they even thought of doing anything this year, Lang says there were numerous COVID-19 protocols that had to be established in order to keep volunteers and members of the public safe. “I went onto the WorkSafe BC site and looked at how we would have to do things at the community hall, and there were Village of Ashcroft protocols as well. Everything was cleaned and disinfected. It stretched us a little bit, but we managed to deal with it, because it was important for the safety of everybody.”
Lang says they have always done contact tracing of a sort, with people signing in when they come in to volunteer. “We had the same crew of people that we usually have, and got a lot of couples, to cut down on anything that could be construed as dangerous. In the past we’ve had different crews on different days, to use as many people as possible, but this year we used the same people for three or all four of the days.”
To be on the safe side, she contacted the Ashcroft RCMP before work started on Dec. 16, to give them a copy of the safety plan and let them know people were at the hall.
“We didn’t want people calling and saying ‘There’s a social gathering at the hall.’ They were happy they had a copy of the plan and knew ahead of time.”
Bulk bags of items such as rice, oats, pasta, flour, and sugar are usually purchased or donated, then broken down into smaller portions by volunteers. Lang says that didn’t happen this year because of COVID-19.
“We’ve also had concerns in the past because of handling other people’s food and bagging it, so we decided this year that we couldn’t do it. We ended up purchasing smaller packages of things like rice and decided to forego sugar and flour. We hoped people had those at home, and we have to make sure the hampers aren’t too heavy for delivery people. It also made a great deal of difference with time.”
While every hamper usually gets a turkey, this year only families received one; single-person households instead got a $20 gift voucher for Ashcroft Safety Mart.
“A lot of single people live in apartments and motels and don’t have the capacity to cook a turkey, so have to find someone else to cook it for them, or give it away,” explains Lang. “I was also a little concerned about so many poultry plants shutting down, and thought there might be trouble with supply. It turned out fine, but we had already told people, and they seemed quite content with the vouchers
”This way they can buy a chicken, or other meat, or eggs and milk. It’s entirely up to them how they spend it. And it made the delivery process much easier, as we didn’t have to stop for a turkey.”
Because of COVID-19, there was only one collection box for food donations, at Safety Mart. Instead, Ashcroft IDA Pharmacy, Safety Mart, Ashcroft Home Hardware, NGN Sales, and Junctions Coffee House in Cache Creek gave customers the option of adding a donation to their purchases, while the liquor stores in Ashcroft and Cache Creek had donation cans. IDA Pharmacy said they would match all donations received, and another business brought in boxes of food as part of a head office initiative.
Lang says they would probably consider using the donation system in the future. “People who were getting hampers had an opportunity to give, even if it was just a little, so they had a sense of having contributed.”
All the food was ordered from Safety Mart, and Lang says that store manager Victor Paulos did a really good job of meeting their needs, even though things were flying off the shelves or not available. “We had signs on the wall [of the community hall] saying ‘canned fruit’ and ‘canned vegetables’, etc., so whatever rolled in went to the right place. It meant we were able to keep better control of donations than when we have lots of separate food donation boxes.”
Each box received fresh potatoes, carrots, onions, and apples. Lang says there was money left from last year, and they wanted a gift for each hamper, so they bought honey from local beekeepers so that everyone got a jar.
On D-Day — delivery day on Dec. 19 — a list on the wall of the hall showed who was coming, and at what time, to pick up hampers for delivery. Recipients had been grouped together according to where they lived, to help expedite the delivery process.
“Vivian [Edwards] puts together a list of drivers and does the mapping. If we have an area with 10 people then one driver takes all 10, but we have some heavy spots that need more than one driver. It has to be organized quite tightly so we can get people in and out.”
Firefighters delivered hampers to Clinton, while Mavourneen and Jim Varcoe-Ryan took hampers to Spences Bridge, and workers from the Bonaparte and Ashcroft bands picked up hampers for delivery to the bands. Members of the Ashcroft and District Lions Club, as well as other volunteers, did deliveries in Ashcroft and Cache Creek.
People coming to the hall to pick up their hampers usually enter and exit via the front door, but COVID-19 necessitated a change. “We didn’t want people passing each other at the front, so this time we had them come in at the side door and then go out the front door with the buggies [borrowed from Safety Mart], as there’s no step there.”
The 171 hampers distributed this year were 11 fewer than in 2019, which surprised Lang somewhat.
“I did expect it to be higher. The food bank in Ashcroft has had more clientele, but demand at the Clinton food bank has decreased by 50 per cent, and Clinton was down quite a lot.
“Maybe people moved away, or maybe they were getting CERB [COVID emergency response benefits].”
One last hamper was picked up on Dec. 20, marking the end of the program for another year. Lang says that she will book the community hall for the 2021 hampers this month; then there will be a break until October, when planning starts again.
In the meantime, she’s pleased with how things went this year.
“The volunteers were fantastic and everything went really well. All the hampers were delivered, and we had a lot of people say ‘thank you’ and ‘Merry Christmas’.”