A Day in Santa’s Mailroom

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Where tables and chairs were once left empty, the conference room at Charles Village is now full, festive and busy. Boxes marked “Food Only,” “Food and Toys,” and “Toys Only,” are collecting piles of applications, while employees and volunteers work to sort through more and more as they come with each new delivery of the mail.

This is a typical day at the Christmas Bureau which operates to coordinate all the people, food and toys that are involved with Christmas assistance. It’s the bureau that makes the Christmas Hamper Program such a success each year  (read an earlier blog post here for more info on the Program). Recently,  I had the opportunity to help at the bureau, sorting through applications and entering them into a database, and it was an awesome experience! I must admit that I felt a little like an elf in Santa’s mailroom as I sorted through the applications.

So the Christmas Hamper Program is picking up speed. Each year we make use of donated warehouse space and either the House of Friendship or the Salvation Army hosts the staff and volunteers of the Christmas Bureau.  Charles Village (a program of House of Friendship) is hosting the bureau this year and the warehouse space has been donated (again) by NCR in Waterloo.

Even as I write this, the warehouse space is undergoing its transformation into a hamper-producing machine, already filled with food, volunteers and lots of boxes (see pictures here and here of it filling up!). But before the human assembly line can kick into gear, we need to know where the hampers will go and who they’re for. That’s where the bureau comes in.

In 2009, the Christmas Bureau ensured that 4,617 Kitchener-Waterloo households got help in December by facilitating the distribution of food, toys or both. Although House of Friendship and Salvation Army provide the majority of this assistance, the bureau also supports the efforts of other groups that wish to help families and individuals around the holiday season. These include different agencies, groups, churches and individuals in our community, who last year numbered over 100.

As Melissa blogged about here, 3,620 hampers were packed and delivered last year to people in Kitchener-Waterloo through the Christmas Hamper Program alone. Close to 1000 more households who were not assisted by the House of Friendship program benefited from the generosity of these other sponsors.

With so many generous sponsors eager to contribute during the holiday season, the bureau is a necessary mediator that works to prevent the duplication of effort. This ensures that community resources can reach as many people as possible as fairly as possible.

In October, people who receive social assistance receive an application for Christmas assistance, which includes the option of both food and toys. Those who do not receive social assistance are not exempt from applying, but must fill out an application at a designated site, like the Emergency Food Hamper Program.

All of these completed applications are returned to the Christmas Bureau, creating the Santa’s-mailroom scenario I described at the beginning of this blog post. To assist in what could be a chaotic process, about 3-4 people are hired on a part-time basis to receive, organize and enter applications into a database, send sponsors client information as appropriate and follow-up with people who are missing information on their application. They could not do this work alone, and are assisted by numerous faithful volunteers.

Once the applications are received, sorted and entered into the database they are passed over to the staff and volunteers at the Christmas Hamper warehouse.  This year, on November 26th, the Christmas Bureau supplied the warehouse with an initial set of 1900 names from the database. This is only the first set, and we expect to receive even more names as the month continues.

In the coming days, these names and their associated information are printed and then used for a variety of purposes. The names inform the number of hampers we produce and they allow us to start planning delivery routes for our volunteer drivers. These, and many other tasks, are happening around here today and then on Friday December 10, the first of our deliverers will head out into the community! Be sure to stay tuned for more highlights as the program gets ready to accomplish the huge task of delivering thousands of boxes of food in the coming weeks.

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