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Innisfail Christmas Bureau opens for season

Need could be high for struggling citizens due to less government COVID support
MVT Christmas Bureau 2021
Norma Hoppins, donations chairperson for the Innisfail Christmas Bureau, said it's difficult to measure the need this year as the impact of the pandemic is still being felt by many and there is less government support as there was last year. Johnnie Bachusky/MVP Staff

INNISFAIL – The 39th annual Innisfail Christmas Bureau campaign has begun to help the less fortunate in the community.

This year, volunteers for the holiday season program, which began its loyal service to the community in 1982, will once again be headquartered inside empty space near the west entrance at the Co-op Mall that once housed a furniture store.

“God bless the Co-op for letting us keep our stuff here for a whole year so we didn’t have to pay for storage charges. They said, ‘no one is in here anyway.’ Thank you to the Co-op,” said Norma Hoppins, donations chairperson for the local Christmas Bureau.

The Innisfail Christmas Bureau typically serves about 400 citizens, including up to 89 families. She said there was an expectation last year there would by a high need due to the pandemic and the struggles many were facing but the demand wound up being about the same, partly because many citizens were receiving Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) payments.

“This year some of that money has been cut back. Will we get more? We never know,” said Hoppins. “We just prepare.”

She said the start of this year’s campaign was Nov. 10 with the setting up of space for client interviews. Program registration began Nov. 15.

Hoppins said the Christmas Bureau has prepared registrations forms for both families, and singles/couples, with reminders that only one person, who must wear a mask, can come into the office to register for a Christmas hamper.

Each client must produce photo identification, Alberta Health Care Card, last bank statement, proof of address and income.

She noted the office is large enough for privacy but because of the pandemic extra precautions must be made.

“This is the beauty of the Co-op. They can wait outside the office and it’s warm and dry. We can put the chairs out, and it’s not a problem,” said Hoppins.

Citizens can register on Mondays from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. and on Wednesdays from 2 to 3:30 p.m. The last registration will be on Dec. 14.

Hoppins said Hamper Fill nights are on Tuesday nights from 6:30 to 8 p.m. for volunteers to fill hampers for clients. Each client will then come on Thursday nights from 6:30 to 8 p.m. to pick up their hampers.

“They get a list and they say, ‘well, I got a young family here with a single mum and three children and they go along and shop,” said Hoppins, adding on Thursdays families pick three full black bags of Christmas items, including books, a puzzle, a game board, toque and mittens, gloves, stockings and scarves, as well as an action figure for a boy or a doll for a girl. Stocking stuffers are offered as well.

“We just grab a grocery bag and fill it up,” said Hoppins. “You got a girl or you got a boy, here you go.”

She added the parent then picks up a gift or gifts up to a value of $75 per child. “One gift, three gifts, whatever,” she said. “So, a single mum with two little kids walks out of here with about a $500 to $600 value.”

She noted each client also receives a grocery card/voucher from either NoFrills or Co-op. A single mother with children will receive a grocery/gift card and extra cards for each child. For adults without children, they also receive a gift/grocery card.

“The Christmas Bureau has always depended on the generosity of the Innisfail community and they have never let us down, between monetary donations and gifts that are dropped off at the town office or the Dairy Queen,” said Hoppins.

For any citizen or family considering the support of the Innisfail Christmas Bureau this holiday season, her or she can call 403-227-1739 or 403- 227-3111 for more information, or go to Facebook page of Innisfail Christmas Bureau.