’Twas the weeks before Christmas, and all through the city, Riverites gathered and generosity ran freely.
Each year thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours are donated by the people of Campbell River to make sure everyone from the animals at the SPCA to the kids who might not otherwise get presents to the seniors who might spend Christmas alone, have a happy holiday season.
Cards were chosen from the Angel Tree with care, to show that during hard times someone would be there.
The Angel Tree has been a Christmas tradition in Campbell River for so long that children who received gifts from the project when they were young have come back and donated gifts to the project as adults. Dawn Hamilton, coordinator of the project, figures it is around 32 years.
Each year Hamilton approaches the designated agencies in town and asks them to fill out applications for families who are in need of extra support during the holiday season.
The workers provide Hamilton with details about the childrens’ needs, including clothing and shoe sizes, as well as wants and interests. Hamilton writes the information down on a card and hangs the cards from a Christmas tree in the Coastal Discovery Inn’s lobby. This year the tree will be going up on December 2.
When someone has chosen a card from the tree, they have until December 11 to shop for the child they picked and return the gifts to the inn. Hamilton said some people buy everything that was on the tag and others pick one want and one need.
Once all of the donations are gathered, Hamilton and her assistants go through the gifts to make sure the child gets everything they need and that they get similar amounts of things to their siblings who also had a card on the tree.
Luckily, people, businesses and organizations within the community donate gifts and money, not associated with a specific child. Hamilton said they often have the resources to complete each child’s list.
After everything is sorted, the volunteers come in and do the wrapping. Last year the group gathered garbage bags full of new, donated, gifts, that were then wrapped by volunteers, for 385 kids.
Hamilton took over the project six years ago, when the previous coordinator stepped down. She works for Family Services, one of the organizations that benefits from Angel Tree. She knew how important the project was and didn’t want to see it come to an end, so she, as well as her co-workers, stepped up to volunteer.
“We are just so passionate about the program,” she says.
Many other businesses and organizations are on board as well. Swicked Cycles has been collecting and refurbishing used bikes for Angel Tree for the past two years. Hamilton says she gives the bike shop the information about the children who would be interested in owning a bike and they match a bike up to a child.
“And then the child gets a bike for Christmas!” Hamilton says.
For the second year in a row, Angel Tree has also partnered with The Christmas Pajama Drive. Based on a 6-year-old kid’s wish that every child should have new pajamas to wear to bed on Christmas Eve, the pajama project came to Campbell River through Chances Playtime, who collected the new pajamas and donated them to the Angel Tree project.
Campbell River Dance Extreme runs a mini Angel Tree of their own and puts together toiletry bags for teens and donates them to Angel Tree to be included as gifts.
Quality Foods and the staff at CIBC raise money throughout the year to donate to Angel Tree.
“It’s a community effort,” Hamilton says proudly.
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear, but truckloads of food and excited volunteers.
Another long standing Campbell River holiday season tradition, are the Christmas Hampers.
Starting early in November, the community donates food and money to the Hamper fund at 1100 Homewood Road. On December 17 easily 100 volunteers show up to pack and deliver the food hampers, with the Knights of Columbus overseeing it all. Last year there was a hamper out the back door every 22 seconds.
“The community gives us the money, or the toys or the food to make the hampers, the community builds the hampers, the community delivers the hampers,” says Kevin Gearey, organizer. “The Knights simply provide the framework and the logistics and so on.”
The experienced volunteers show up early on packing day to claim their shopping cart, which they then fill with the items that have been donated so that it can be packed up and delivered by whoever requested it.
Anyone who fills out an application, which are available at the Income Assistance Office at
833a 14th Ave, receives a hamper. Last year there were 1,190 hampers. Gearey says they would never have time to go through all of the applications and determine who actually needs one. He feels he doesn’t have the right to determine need anyway. In some cases there may be a psychological need but not a financial need, and he is perfectly okay with that.
Gearey has never done deliveries, but he has been in the warehouse the next day when the people who weren’t home to receive their hamper come to pick it up. He has seen tears. He has heard extremely grateful people say “This is my Christmas.”
“When you see things like this happen you figure ‘you know what? It doesn’t matter. The overall good outweighs some jerks that are just going along for the ride’,” he says.
So up to the house-top the courses they flew, with a sleigh full of gifts for vulnerable women too.
Alison Skrepneck came across The Shoebox Project on Canada AM four years ago and decided she should bring it to Campbell River.
The project distributes shoeboxes with $50 worth of gifts to vulnerable women in the community. The gifts inside the shoeboxes can be anything from necessities likes shampoo and deodorant to small luxuries like nail polish or candies. “We just ask people to put in things that they would enjoy,” Skrepneck says.
The first year she worked only with the North Island Transition Society, as the Shoebox Project was originally intended to distribute gifts to homeless or at risk women. But now it has grown to include other organizations in town that work with vulnerable women. Some who spend any extra money they have on their children and never on themselves.
The response in the community has been amazing. “We have gone over our goal each year,” Skrepneck says. The goal is determined by the agencies Skrepneck works with. She contacts each one early in the fall and asks how many shoeboxes they think they will need.
From November 12 to December 2 people drop off the shoeboxes. Skrepneck then goes through each box to make sure there is no alcohol or razors and that everything is nut free. She and other volunteers decorate the boxes and then take them to the agencies who then distribute them.
Last year Skrepneck was invited to a luncheon where the shoeboxes were handed out. She says it was wonderful to be a part of and to see the positive responses from the women.
And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the street, the singing and ringing of the Kettle Bells keep.
Volunteers solicit donations and draw attention to the fundraising campaign by singing, playing an instrument or just by politely greeting and thanking passersby.
“They don’t have to all be in tune, they can just go and have fun and it draws attention,” says Tami Ness, volunteer coordinator for the Salvation Army.
Ness said for some families, organizations and service clubs doing shifts on a kettle has become a holiday tradition.
One year there was a young girl who practiced her violin by a kettle, Ness says . She had only just started learning to play the instrument but by practicing her scales and notes next to that kettle for the two hour shift, she garnered a lot of attention.
Last year the campaign raised around $70,000 and Ness said they hope to do the same again this year. All of the money raised goes to the Salvation Army’s local initiatives including the Lighthouse soup kitchen and Emergency Family Services among others.
Another charity that benefits every year during the holiday season is the SPCA. On December 10 from 12-4 p.m. Dogwood Petmart is once again offering pet photos on Mrs. Clauses lap for donations. “We give to them all year long, but Christmas time is a special time,” says Gregory Janicki, owner of Dogwood Petmart.
He says that in the four hours, around 150 pets get their photo taken and it is an all around fun event. Dogwood Petmart covers the cost of the photographer, and everyones donations go straight to the SPCA.
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight, “Happy Canadian Country Christmas to all, and to all a good night.”
The Canadian Country Christmas tour all started with “It’s Called Christmas Time,” a song that Sean Hogan wrote in 2004 that was inspired by “Do they know it’s Christmas,” the Christmas song from Band-Aid for the famine in Ethiopia in 1984.
“A lot of great British pop singers, at the time, did the song to help the famine in Africa,” Hogan says. “I thought, wouldn’t it be great if with this song I asked my other fellow country artists to sing with me on this particular song, different lines.”
The Canadian Country Christmas tour was born.
The first set is country music and the second is Christmas songs. Hogan has invited over 30 different artists on tour with him over the years. This year he will be joined by Thomas Wade and Jamie Warren, with on Island appearances by Sue Medley and local band Non Stop Talk.
Hogan has only ever missed the tour once. In 2011 he survived 35 days of radiation and chemotherapy treatment, he has been cancer free ever since and that bout with the illness made him grateful for a second chance and more motivated than ever to give back. “It gives me an extra sense of, every year going forward, the good that we can do to whatever extent we can…we realize that not every day is Christmas but it would be nice if we could keep that spirit of giving more into every day of the year,” he says.