Many businesses in town get behind the Knights of Columbus Christmas Hamper Fund drive, including the Real Canadian Superstore which parked a bus outside its store on Friday and Saturday to encourage customers to fill it up with goods for the Hamper drive. Photo by Alistair Taylor/Campbell River Mirror

Campbell River’s Christmas Hamper Fund – A history and an inside look

The goal of the Community Christmas Hamper Fund in Campbell River is simple: To help ensure that all are able to joyfully celebrate the season of Christmas.

The Community Christmas Hamper Fund in Campbell River is organized by the Knights of Columbus, Bishop Hill Council 5468. The Knights have organized a drive to have hampers delivered in the week before Christmas to some members of the Campbell River community and surrounding area. The hampers do not only go to the most vulnerable and marginalized but also to a large number of the “working poor,” people who are having difficulty meeting all the normal daily demands placed on families and individuals. Further there are many seniors, singles and couples for whom the reception of a Christmas Hamper is central to their ability to enjoy a Christmas celebration.

The hamper fund, as organized by the Knights, was begun in 1972. Prior to that time, the Jaycees of Campbell River had done the task. For the first five years, the hampers were assembled in the old community centre. Once the number of hampers reached 200, a number that was the case for a few years more, the Knights sought out other temporary premises for the effort. At about the same time they started a bid process among the local grocery stores for the items that were required to fill the hampers, a process that is still in effect today.

The organization of the hamper drive is something akin to a roll of the dice. Imagine that you wish to throw a party, don’t have a place to hold it, don’t yet have the money to pay for it, don’t know how many people will be coming and therefore don’t know how much food to order!

The organizing committee each year has to first find a building where the hampers are to be assembled. It is worthy of note, and testimony to the generosity of local building owners, that in all the years that the hamper fund has existed it has happened on only two occasions where there was rent to be paid for the temporary use of a building. This year the hamper office to accept donations of money, non-perishable food and new toys is in the Campbell River Common in an empty store on the perimeter of the center court. In November the office is open from 10:00am until 2:00pm Monday to Saturday. Starting December 1st the hours are 10:00am until 5:00pm and from December 11th until delivery day, December 16th, 9:30am until 5:00pm. The phone number at the office is 250-914-3716. The depot where the hampers are to be assembled and from where they will be delivered on Saturday, December 16th is the loading dock of the former Target store.

The committee estimates the amount of food to be ordered using the data of recent years and a guess of how much non-perishable food will be donated by members of the community, schools and other groups and events. Once that has been done the bid forms are distributed to local grocers. The successful bids are then chosen and the food is ordered. This is generally done before there are even any applications for a hamper and no money to pay for the food has been donated.

It is the community that drives the hamper fund. Without the annual generous donations of food items, money and toys, the hamper fund would simply cease to exist.

The hampers are assembled on a Saturday close to Christmas. This year the date is December 16th. When it is stated that the community “drives” the fund, it is literally the truth. Once the hampers have been assembled by volunteers, other volunteers are required to deliver the hampers using their vehicles. This usually begins about 8:00am and continues until all hampers have left the depot. Typically the deed is accomplished by early afternoon. It is amazing to see the number of vans, trucks and cars that appear to tackle the task. Some families have been delivering for over 17 years. It has become a part of their Christmas Tradition. An equally dedicated group of volunteers appears to assemble the hampers. This is done by “shopping” and is a sight to behold how efficiently and smoothly it unfolds. It has been described as “organized chaos”. People who have “shopped” will tell you that it is a very rewarding experience.

To volunteer one merely has to show up on either delivery day or the evening before. On the Friday afternoon there are 250 hampers built to give a headstart to the effort the next day and about 10 shoppers are needed. On delivery day itself there are more shoppers needed as well as delivery people and their vehicles. The number of volunteers needed on delivery day to complete all aspects of the task is about two hundred.

The hamper application forms are available only at the Campbell River Employment & Income Assistance Office located at 833A 14th Ave. The forms must be filled out and returned to this same location to ensure the reception of a hamper.

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