With a new name and logo, Westlock Family and Community Support Services starts off its annual holiday programming and is currently accepting applications for the program formerly known as Santa’s Anonymous.
Until Dec. 3, anybody living in the Town of Westlock, Westlock County and Village of Clyde can apply for the newly rebranded Westlock & District Christmas Spirit program,
With Christmas Spirit, FCSS is encouraging community support for the more vulnerable and for those in need. The program supports a healthy Christmas for everyone. Kids will receive a couple of presents, toques and scarves, stocking stuffers. For the family, FCSS donates grocery store gift cards in an amount that varies based on number of people in the family.
Eligibility is still based on income. FCSS will ask for income tax returns from the previous year, but extenuating circumstances like recent unemployment are also taken into consideration.
“It’s the same program, but we’ve changed a couple of things,” said Tracy Proulx, FCSS director.
Among the changes, apart from the name, is parents’ ability to ‘shop’ for the presents. Whereas before, volunteer elves would choose from the available gifts, this year parents can specify their gift preferences when they apply.
For those who wish to make donations, stores around town have bins for drop-off; cash donations should go to the FCSS office.
“Typically, we get a lot of gifts donated, especially for younger kids. Teens is a huge gap, we always need more gifts for teens. Cash donations, we were definitely short on,” said Proulx.
There was a significant spike in number of applicants last year, with 163 families signing up in 2018 compared to 109 in 2017. This has caused some difficulty in funding, which is all based on donations specifically for the program.
Although in 2017, the numbers balanced out, in 2018 FCSS had to dip into the reserve accumulated from previous years’ donations to fund the program, added program coordinator Maureen Schiller.
The cash donations are used to purchase grocery store gift cards. Schiller clarified that this program is not associated with the Food Bank. While FCSS does accept donations for the Food Bank, the Christmas Spirit program is separate from that.
The adopt-a-family initiative will continue within Christmas Spirit, so businesses, families, or individuals can again apply to sponsor one of the applicant families from the program. FCSS will then match the adopters to a family in need. About 30 families get adopted each year.
In that case, it is up to the adopter to do the shopping for presents. As for food, FCSS has a list of suggestions, but adopters are always welcome to go above and beyond.