Christmas is coming

Halloween is still a week away, but food banks are already preparing for the holiday hamper season.

While Hamilton Community News and its advertisers are partnering with Hamilton Food Share for a month-long food drive to assist families in need, Food Share and its member agencies are also gearing up to help those in need this Christmas.

“During the year, there are about 17,000 people who go to a food bank on a monthly basis,” said Food Share executive director Joanne Santucci. “When Christmas hits, it’s a very difficult time of the year. There are added expenses that bring more people to the food bank than normally would come.”

The City of Hamilton gives Food Share $100,000 in grant money to divvy out to its member agencies to help buy the food needed for Christmas hamper or box programs. In appreciation of the city’s support, Food Share matches the $100,000 grant to provide three to four basic items for each program.

“It’s only a portion of the cost,” Santucci said, adding the amount of money given to member agencies is based on how many people each agency expects to serve. “They’re (the food banks) going out by themselves, as well as Food Share, trying to raise as much as we can to collectively put together what our community needs. It’s very unique that agencies work together like this; I’m very proud of the job they do.”

Santucci said member agencies distributed 11,016 Christmas hampers or boxes last year.

This year, agencies estimate that 12,808 hampers or boxes will be required to fill the need.

Denise Arkell, executive director of the Neighbour 2 Neighbour Centre, said more than 1,500 households require the assistance of the centre’s Christmas hamper program each year.

The program offers families a Christmas day breakfast, lunch and dinner, toys for children 12 and under, a gift and when possible, stocking stuffer items. Individuals and seniors are also provided with a holiday breakfast, lunch, dinner and gift.

Those in need get to select the items they wish to have at the centre’s Christmas store locations.

The program’s pre-registration process began last week and will run until the end of November.

Arkell said the grant money helps to get the program going, but a lot of additional food collection and fundraising is needed.

Donations from the community in any form play a big role in helping to meet the need, she said.

“I think we got a little over $10,000 (in grant money) last year. The program costs close to $300,000 a year to operate and that’s mostly all donations,” Arkell said. “Those who use the program are so very thankful. Christmas time can be the happiest time of the year, but it can also be the saddest time of the year for many people; you want everybody to wake up Christmas morning and have a good Christmas day.”

The Stoney Creek Community Food Bank expects to distribute almost 300 Christmas
boxes this year.

Secretary and treasurer Susan Rogers said last December, the food bank gave out 275 boxes, helping 440 adults and 244 children.

“We use all of the grant money, plus some of our reserves whenever it’s needed, for our Christmas help,” she said. “We also get a lot of donations from the community, which we’re truly grateful for. Every donation goes a long way in helping to make ends meet.”

Santucci said member agency Christmas hamper or box programs will assist an estimated 34,171 people — 19,809 adults and 14,362 children — this year.

“There is so much that one person can do (to help). Every $1 donated to Food Share raises $5 dollars worth of food,” she said. “Every gift counts and does make a difference.”