“A lot of people don’t realize the effort that goes into them,” said Major Glenn Patey with the Salvation Army.
Patey grew up in the Salvation Army church and has been an officer for 40 years.
Every Christmas season, for as long as Patey can recall, the Salvation Army in Prince Albert has been working long hard hours to put presents under the tree and food on the tables of families who would otherwise do without.
“This is something we’ve always done,” he said.
Every year they anticipate stuffing between 400 and 450 hampers. This year the number is 430.
“We have 10 or 12 people for 20 days, then we have others that stand (at the) Kettles,” Patey said.
Each hamper, combining gifts and food, is worth hundreds of dollars per child.
“We figure there’s close to $200 per hamper,” Patey said.
A turkey dinner is a costly treat.
“A turkey alone is $26,” he said.
While the traditional meal is a turkey, they are considering changing how they provide families with meat. Many people don’t have the needed supplies or even cooking utensils to cook a turkey in the traditional style. Many others have never learned how to cook a turkey.
“We’ve toyed with the idea of doing a meat voucher instead,” Patey said.
“Then if they want $25 worth of hamburger meat because it’s easier and it goes farther then they can do that,” he added.
All told, the money needed to make this Salvation Army charitable tradition a reality is significant.
“We usually we spend about $50,000 to $60,000 at Christmas and the rest, that mostly gets used throughout the year. That will usually get us through the year,” he added.
The money comes from the Prince Albert’s generosity, when they donate to the Salvation Kettles.
Beyond the Christmas hampers the remaining funds go to fund the Family Services branch and to pay for food served at the Salvation Army throughout the year.
While based on Christian values and still a Christian organization, the Salvation Army does not preach to those who come for assistance.
Volunteers of many nationalities and religions join forces to offer a hand.
“People from all walks of life come in and volunteer … we get different faiths that take part … our only criteria is that you be committed to what you’re doing,” Patey said.
Betty Neepin, busy packing hampers, has been volunteering with them for 55 years.
“I’ve been involved, probably since I was about 17 and I’m 72 now in December,” Neepin said.
Volunteerism within the Salvation Army community can become a generational legacy, as evidenced by the presence of Betty’s daughter, Angela Demerais and her own daughter, Kimber-Raine Demerais, just five years old.
“We just get a list full of all the toys and then we fill them up for age group and for family,” Neepin said.
While generally the hampers go well, Patey does wish that all recipients would show up to get their bag of goodies.
“Every year, there’s about 10 or 12 people that don’t come and pick up their hamper,” Patey said.
If someone fails to pick up their hamper, the volunteer’s hands are tied and their hard work goes to waste, because they do not wish to invade people’s privacy.
“We usually we spend about $50,000 to $60,000 at Christmas and the rest, that mostly gets used throughout the year." - Major Glenn Patey
“We don’t want to start phoning them because that might be an awkward thing for them,” Patey said/
If someone can’t get in to pick it up or they are sick then they are asked to call and let the volunteers know. Something will be arranged.
Giving at Christmas is nothing new for the Salvation Army, in Canada and beyond.
“It started out as a very small compassionate enterprise in London, England, when the Salvation Army would give out Christmas puddings in the street,” Glen said
In 1904 the first Kettle donations buckets began in San Francisco, before the giving tradition washed across the continent.
The Salvation Army is the largest non-governmental direct provider of social services in the country in Canada, serving 400 communities across Canada and more than 120 countries around the world.
The Salvation Army is an international organization and began work in Canada in 1882.
In 2010 it provided 2.7 million meals across the country, as well as 6,350 beds for people dealing with poverty, drugs, mental health and homelessness.
For members of the community who could use a hot Christmas dinner, one will be served at the Out Post from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. on Christmas day. All comers are welcome.