100 Years of Christmas Miracles

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This blog post was provided by Linda Grayston from the Christmas Cheer Board of Greater Winnipeg.

As the holidays near, it’s a time of joy and cheer for many Canadians across the country. For some, however, the holidays can be a challenging time for many of our neighbours as they grapple with hardships or struggle making ends meet.

It’s at the Christmas Cheer Board of Greater Winnipeg where we offer hope and help to make sure everyone experiences the magic of the holiday season.

As a registered charity, we provide a Christmas food hamper, turkey, and children’s gifts to almost 18,000 families in Winnipeg each year. Our charity serves one purpose—we try to brighten up the holiday season for families who struggle all year-round—and we do it well! All year long we can be contacted, but the majority of our work is done in 10 short weeks leading up to Christmas. Plus, our work is all done by volunteers who come back to volunteer year after year which has contributed to our long history.

Our History and Impact

The Christmas Cheer Board of Greater Winnipeg began after the end of WW1 when churches in Winnipeg provided hampers to the widows and orphans of the war. The need to support the less fortunate in our city continued to grow over the years, and in the 1940’s, the Christmas Cheer Board of Greater Winnipeg became a registered charity.

We serve those who are on Employment Income Assistance as well as the working poor. This includes families who come to us in the cold winter months when they are struggling to pay their heating bills, or buy warm clothes for their family.

To offer support, we open up an empty donated warehouse on November 1st each year and thousands of volunteers work tirelessly to sort food, pack hampers, wrap almost 20,000 gifts, and then deliver these hampers to almost 18,000 families before December 24th. 1,000 school children pack all of our hampers for us, thousands of mitts and toques are made by loyal knitters, nearly 1,500 volunteer drivers deliver the hampers, and about 150 volunteers work full time for two months to make this all happen. It truly is a “Christmas miracle” that it all gets done.

This year, we are celebrating our 100th anniversary and are looking forward to continuing on into our second century. Monetary donations provide about half of the food and toys, and all of the turkeys for these hampers. The rest of the food and toys that we require to fill the hampers are provided directly by donors such as businesses, churches, schools, clubs and individuals who collect food and toys on our behalf!

It’s through this generosity showcased over the past 100 years that has supported people like Sarah who have benefited from our work.

Sarah’s* Story

When Sarah needed help, the Christmas Cheer Board of Greater Winnipeg was there to lend a hand. This is Sarah’s story, told in Sarah’s very own words:

I grew up in government housing in downtown Winnipeg with a single mom. My mom came from a small town up north, where she was married by 18 and had me at 19. By the time I was 5 it was just the two of us.

Without her high school diploma, it was difficult for her to support us. When she decided to go back to school and get her GED to try and improve our living conditions, she could only work sparse hours at her waitressing job as she had no child care, with all of our relatives living in rural Manitoba. At that time, money became very scarce.

Despite enormous challenges, it was important to my mom to always make Christmas special for me. We would go see Santa and bake cookies for him together before Christmas Eve. In order to make it special, she would have to start saving in June. Every month she would put a small amount of money aside and put that towards a small gift for me that would be under the tree in December. She would also buy a gift that would be “from my Dad” which she would put under the tree from him to me, as he was in and out of my life, and offered no financial support—I’m not sure if she knows that I eventually figured that out!

When you are poor like we experienced, opening the fridge can give you anxiety at times. As a hungry kid, you are staring at an empty fridge wondering what you can make out of it. Sometimes I would pour cold tap water into a bowl and put a little bit of cereal in it to make a meal. We almost never had meat or milk. I wonder how stressful it must have been for my mom to stare at that empty fridge at the end of the month. So, you must imagine how exciting and magical it felt as a small child when I first saw our Christmas Cheer Board hamper full of beautiful food. I remember it very clearly. There were kind faces at the door with elf hats on, a big cardboard box full of food and even two small gifts wrapped up for me. Since my mom was the only person who ever bought me Christmas gifts, I thought this was really cool.

From the food in the hamper, my mom made us a delicious Christmas turkey dinner. Our kitchen in Manitoba Housing was so tiny that when my mom opened the oven door, it would hit the refrigerator which was across from it. But it didn’t matter, the turkey came out perfect. We ate our Christmas supper together just the two of us and watched The Grinch on CBC. My presents from the Cheer Board were a real Lego set—my first! And what I recall most clearly from our Cheer Board hamper, a pair of knitted rainbow coloured mitts. I was always the poorest kid in my class at school, and we had no family around so it often felt extremely lonely. I found it astonishing that someone who didn’t even know me cared enough about me to take the time to make me mittens. Suddenly I was less alone and I wore those mitts until there were holes in the thumbs.

My mom got her GED, and went on to university where she earned an Honours degree in science. Now, I’m a teacher, and my own kids will never know what it feels like to look at an empty fridge, thanks mainly to the hard work my mom put in. Growing up in poverty was very stressful, but knowing that other people cared about us, and having something special to look forward to every Christmas helped motivate me and build resilience. I will forever be grateful for the role the Cheer Board played in our lives.

Learn more and make a donation in support of the Christmas Cheer Board of Greater Winnipeg Inc. today!

*Name has been changed to protect confidentiality and privacy.

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