One of Campbell River’s favourite Christmas charity initiatives, like many other things this year, is going virtual.
The Campbell River Angel Tree is an annual event that sees thousands of gifts given out to children in the community who otherwise might go without something to unwrap on Dec. 25.
Normally, a tree is set up in the lobby of the Discovery Inn in the Tyee Plaza, decorated with tags containing a child’s information – boy or girl, age, needs and wants, favourite colour, interests, etc. – and community members are invited to swing by, pick a tag, and go shopping for that child.
The gifts are then returned and wrapped up by volunteers to be delivered before the big day.
But this year, obviously, that won’t be how it goes.
“We start planning for Angel Tree almost as soon as Angel Tree is done,” says organizer Dawn Hamilton. “So we were already well into planning when the pandemic hit so everything was up in the air for a while.”
Thankfully, the board members quickly pivoted to how they could change things, rather than hope that everything would be back to normal in six or seven months.
“We knew right away that we’d have to do things differently, if we did it at all,” Hamilton says. “To have 400-plus people walking into the Discovery Inn to pick tags and then send those 400 people out into stores to pick up gifts, bring them back to 40 different volunteers manning the table over nine days, ethically, I had a problem with. So what was it going to look like?”
So she put the call out to the various agencies in the community that supply the names of families that need the help from the initiative to get their submissions in earlier this year, if possible.
And the tags that would normally hang from the tree have essentially become lines of a spreadsheet.
“It’s still a kid in our community,” Hamilton says, “and people who are interested in helping get an email with the tag number, all of the relevant information and details, and they can head out safely and pick up whatever they’d like to buy for them.
“We’re actually able to give more details this way, because we aren’t limited to the size of the tag that needs to hang from the tree,” Hamilton continues. “So people get to know a little more about the child or children they’re shopping for, which is nice.”
When the information is sent out to the shopper, it will be accompanied by instructions on how to get the gifts to the organization, as well.
“We have to limit the drop-off times so we don’t get any crowds,” Hamilton says, “so there will be fewer hours on fewer days where people can bring them to us. But if those times really don’t work for people, we can figure out other arrangements.”
For those who don’t want to shop for gifts but would still like to support the initiative, they can donate funds so the organization can purchase gifts for any children whose “tags” don’t get taken. Now that the society is also a registered charity, cash donations are also eligible for a tax receipt.
So why didn’t Hamilton and her team just decide to take a pass on the initiative this year instead of fighting through all the additional complications and safety protocols?
“Well, there was certainly some discussion in that direction,” Hamilton says. “But I started to think about it, and decided that if there was any time that Angel Tree is really needed, it’s this year. I think there are a lot more families in our community struggling right now than ever. There are people out there that have lost their jobs and wondering how they’re going to keep their house. If they can’t pay their bills, how are they ever going to find money to get their kids gifts for Christmas?
“That’s why we’re doing this, despite the additional challenges. Because it’s important.”
So instead of making your way to the Discovery Inn this year to pick a tag, you’re asked to email firstname.lastname@example.org, contact them through Facebook (facebook.com/downtownangeltree) or phone or text 250-204-5637. All you need to provide is your first and last name, phone number, and how many children you would like to shop for, along with any preference of age or gender.
“Every year, the wonderful people of Campbell River step up and take all the tags even as our numbers rise year after year,” Hamilton says.
“So my hope is that at least that part of it will be the same, even if the way we’re doing it isn’t.”