WESTLOCK - Although applications to the Westlock & District Family and Community Support Services’ Christmas Spirit Program declined for a second-straight year, the program is being hailed as another success that helps the community’s less fortunate.
The program, whose fundraising component ran Nov. 17 to Dec. 9 and provided adults with vouchers or gift cards to purchase food, while children got gifts and families received both, saw the total number of people helped drop to 307 this year from 334 in 2019 and a high of 448 in 2018. Breaking down the numbers further, the program served 160 people from the town, 108 from Westlock County and 39 from the Village of Clyde — in 2019, 230 people from the town participated, 119 came from the county and 44 were from Clyde.
“It was definitely another success. At the beginning I was concerned about COVID and how the changes to the application process were going to be handled and even the delivery process. But in the end everything ran fairly smoothly,” said program director Maureen Schiller. “I thought maybe our numbers were going to increase, but in the end they were comparable to last year and that’s a pleasant surprise that people are doing a little bit better than what I anticipated.”
The program runs entirely via donations and was able to bring in $20,387.35, $16,738.25 of which was spent on groceries and gifts which leaves $3,649.10 in the bank. And although the number of people served was lower, the amount spent was higher compared to 2019 when $12,275 was spent on groceries and gifts and just under $8,600 was left in the bank.
In 2018 the program ran $4,910 in the red, while in 2017 it pretty much broke even, with $435 leftover.
Schiller noted the difference this year was due to the fact that the adopt-a-family program didn’t run — normally, 30 families are adopted by a business which takes care of the food and gifts.
“We definitely spent more money this year because of that,” said noted.
Beyond the numbers just running the program was a challenge as they were unable to use any volunteers due to COVID-19 restrictions. In addition to FCSS staff, home support staff picked up the slack and put together most of the orders. As well, the program moved to online applications which 28 people utilized, while the rest were done over the phone by appointment.
“The home support staff really helped out and did most of the packaging. It was a huge, huge help.”