WESTLOCK - In 2019, the Westlock & District Family and Community Services’ Christmas Spirit program provided 336 area residents, including 172 children from the Town of Westlock, Westlock County and the Village of Clyde with Christmas gifts.
But in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has left many either unemployed, or trying to get by with smaller paycheques, program coordinator Maureen Schiller said they’re anticipating a higher demand. Formerly known as Santa’s Anonymous, the program provides adults with food vouchers or gift cards to purchase food, while kids get gifts and families get both.
“Honestly we really don’t have a clue, but we’re certainly anticipating more with COVID. You hear how many people have lost their jobs, or businesses going out of business or employees hours being cut back … ” she said.
“It’s been a trying year and I always sit back and think of the kids and what they’ve been through. So on Christmas morning it would definitely be nice if they had something under the tree. That’s what we’re hoping to do.”
From Nov. 17 to Dec. 9, families and individuals can apply online at www.westlock.ca/p/fcss or by calling FCSS at 780-349-5900 to set up an appointment to complete the application as they’re not accepting walk-ins due to COVID-19.
“Previous years they would come to the office and we’d fill out their paperwork. Now, we don’t want people coming into the office and we want people to phone in … we just want less people coming in due to COVID,” she said.
“Then if they do qualify we set up an appointment time to do pickups. All the co-ordination happens after Dec. 9 for all the packing of the presents and getting the gift cards … it’s a short window of time before Christmas.”
The program relies entirely on donations from the community. Schiller said donations (credit cards, PayPal and gift cards) will be accepted online — folks can follow the link from the FCSS page or go straight to https://www.canadahelps.org/en/dn/51986 — while in-person cash donations can be made at the FCSS office located at #201, 10004 - 107 Street. Schiller also noted that there won’t be any donation tubs placed in the community, although they will accept toy donations directly at the FCSS office.
“The program is 100 per cent run on donations, there’s no FCSS money involved. And we take donations year round,” said Schiller.
“People can still come into the office and we’ll take cash or cheque, but online is a bit easier as they can do it anytime. And if people are still wanting to donate toys, we will take them here at our office. Again, due to COVID we just didn’t want our volunteers at risk of picking tubs from around the community.
“The success of these programs relies on our community’s involvement. When the community gets involved it makes all the difference, and this will be a challenging year.”