Salvation Army Cadets Scott and Cathy Allen of Kitchener

Central Alberta embraces season of giving

If there’s any doubt that Red Deer overflows with the spirit of giving, look no further than the Christmas charities helping record numbers of people in need this year.

If there’s any doubt that Red Deer overflows with the spirit of giving, look no further than the Christmas charities helping record numbers of people in need this year.

With the final numbers mostly counted, the combined efforts of the Red Deer Christmas Bureau, Salvation Army, Central Alberta Women’s Outreach and Family Services of Central Alberta will bring comfort and joy to several thousand people — many of whom have never had to apply for assistance before.

And those that offer support to these agencies are coming through as always, although there’s still need, and time, to give.

The Christmas Bureau, the hub of the season’s drive to help families and children — had a total of 1,237 applicants this year. This week there are 1,146 hampers going out to families, helping 1,345 children, Christmas Bureau president Teresa Kutynec said.

Going back as far as 2002, the 2015 numbers are the highest, even about 100 higher than during the global economic crisis several years ago. Despite the high numbers, the bureau will be able to help everyone.

“It’s people out of work and I think people weren’t quite prepared for everybody being off for this long. The oilpatch hasn’t gone back to work. There’s a lot of people who have been off since February and still haven’t found any work.”

“I think it’s a bit of a humbling experience for them. They’re having to use a service they’ve never used before, where they’ve possibly donated to in the past.”

Kutynec is worried already about next year, and that the growing need will be a trend. “We’re all a bit concerned. … It’s a lot of new people.”

Families receive toys for their children as well as a hamper that contains food including a turkey and ham, vegetables, and all the fixings.

The bureau’s cash drive for $150,000 may not be reached, Kutynec said, because they still had about $40,000 to go as of Friday.

The annual charity checkstop raised $16,000, about $1,000 more than last year. That money is split between four groups, including the Christmas Bureau.

“We wish everybody a Merry Christmas and we hope that everybody gets back to work and if they used the service and the next year if they don’t have to, then maybe they can give then.”

People who want to donate can still do so today and Tuesday by dropping by the bureau between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. with cash or cheque at #15 7428-49 Ave., or go to CanadaHelps.org and search ‘Red Deer Christmas Bureau’ to make a donation online.

Over at the Red Deer Salvation Army, Major Larry Bridger said they are seeing strong support.

“The response in the last few days has been overwhelming to be honest,” he said Friday.

“The people of Red Deer, when there’s a need, they respond wholeheartedly.”

Bridger said that a lot of people came by to make donations of gift cards and cash after learning about the need in local media earlier in the week when they still needed over 50 more sponsors for their Adopt A Family program.

He said they will meet the needs of approximately 220 families with a total of 420 children. Last year they helped 180 families.

Bridgen also noted that some of the people they are assisting have never asked for help before and these are not the same people receiving help from the Christmas Bureau.

Given the recent donations, they are able to supplement gift hampers a little more.

As for the 30-day Christmas kettle program, which wraps up on Wednesday, he said he is not concerned about reaching their goal of $210,000.

At last count they were at $144,000 and the last days before Christmas are usually the best days for kettles donations, he said.

“Response has been”absolutely tremendous” and Bridgen wanted to offer a sincere thanks to Red Deer.

Darcy Ouellet, fund development officer at Central Alberta Women’s Outreach, said as of Friday they have seen applications for 214 single-parent families with 451 children. The numbers are comparable with last year.

They only assist single-parent families and he has noticed more men this year than in previous years. The final numbers are expected to be a little higher than last year.

“Our sponsors, they are so amazing, they really, really are. We had some that said, ‘We know things are tougher, we’ll do two families this year,’ and then we had some that they just couldn’t do it this year.”

Liz Leinweber, Family Services of Central Alberta volunteer co-ordinator, said the Gifts for Grandparents program will be up compared to last year. They helped 568 seniors last year, and are at about 580 this year.

They also received a lot of support in recent days when the public learned of the need, she said.

Various other groups help the Christmas charities and people in need at this time of year. The City of Red Deer’s Toy for Tickets program resulted in 500 gifts (50 more than in 2014) coming in for the Christmas Bureau.

The Salvation Army’s Christmas Day dinner takes place from 1 to 2:30 p.m. at the church, located at 4837-54th St.

Meal deliveries will be done between noon and 2 p.m. but they must be prearranged by Wednesday by calling 403-346-2251.

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