Looking around at the rows and rows of empty tables at the Knights of Columbus Hamper Fund headquarters, Kevin Gearey gets a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach.
“Every year my stomach churns at this time of year,” says Gearey, one of the many volunteers who co-ordinate the hampers that will be delivered to the needy on Saturday, Dec. 22.
As of Wednesday morning, the Knights have received 827 applications for hampers, and that number is expected to jump to 1,200 by the application closing date, Dec. 11 – a long way from the 60 hampers that were delivered when the Hamper Fund started 39 years ago.
As in previous years, hamper applications are still coming in, it’s only two weeks until hamper delivery day and shelves at the hamper collection depot are bare. Long wooden tables are set up around the perimeter of the empty warehouse beside Banners restaurant, as well as down the middle of the room, but only a handful have a few cans of food sitting on them.
“Right now the donations aren’t coming in very quickly – and it’s always been this way,” Gearey says. “We know the community always rises to the occasion and we’re just asking one more time. It’s a very socially conscious community.”
The Knights are accepting toy and food donations but Gearey stresses the importance of cash, because it goes a long way when purchasing groceries for the hampers.
“We have to buy 6,000 cans of vegetables, 3,500 cans of fruit, 4,500 cans of soup, 1,700 loaves of bread and 650 hams,” says Gearey, listing just some of the items that will go into each hamper.
On top of that, hampers going to families include toys for children ranging in age from new borns to mid-teens. Small gifts are also tucked into hampers earmarked for seniors.
Gearey says it’s a wide range of people in the community who ask for the hampers, from singles to families struggling to make ends meet, to seniors, to people with disabilities – and not one application is turned down.
“There are no questions asked,” Gearey says. “If people apply, they get a hamper.”
For some, the hamper is the only gift they’ll get this Christmas, says Gearey who remembers one senior last year that was so thankful she started to cry because “the hamper was her Christmas.”
And, Gearey points out, stories like that would not be possible without the community.
“The community is everything,” he says. “The community gives us the money, the community builds the hamper, the community distributes the hampers. It really is a community – capital letters – Christmas Hamper Fund.”
To give an idea of how generous the community has been, last year more than $12,000 was spent on 480 turkeys for hampers.
This year, the Hamper Fund got some help in the turkey department from the River Relief Truck, which donated 180 turkeys collected three days ago on Turkey Tuesday.
The truck is currently set up in Mariner Square and collecting donations for the food bank.
Donations for the Hamper Fund can be dropped off at the Hamper depot in Tyee Plaza between the old Supervalu and Banners, call 250-286-6361 for hours and more information.
To apply for a hamper, pick up an application form at the Campbell River Employment and Income Assistance office located at 833A 14th Avenue.