Nearly 150 families host a heartier Christmas than expected this week thanks to a party at Canadian College of Performing Arts in Oak Bay.
Hamper parties started for organizer Joyce Kline well before her move to Victoria in 2000, but that’s the year she started up again. This year marked the 16th in the region, the fourth in Oak Bay.
“It’s become this huge tradition now. The first leaves start to fall and people are asking me ‘when’s the party this year?’” Kline said. “My dream is that this becomes how people celebrate the holidays. It’s not all commercial, the Salvation Army could go around and have 20 places doing hampers and go and pick them up.”
This year they crafted 148 baskets of food for those in need of a little extra help.
“Our record was 158 and I was still doing it in my house back then,” she said, referring to her home in Fernwood. Once she sold that house the party moved to the Victoria College of Art but the stairs made it a challenge to move thousands of pounds of food.
“CCPA stepped up to the plate and we’ve been there since,” Kline said. “It’s wonderful because it’s so all-ages.”
It’s not unusual to see teens and youngsters hauling 50-pound sacks of produce while grannies measure out bulk coffee and small kids count out carrots, Kline said. All to the tune of entertainment and fuelled by refreshments.
“Monterey Concert Band played for us again this year and the CCPA students, who are amazing triple threat talents, sing carols for us while we work. Anyone can join the party, they just have to be contributing something, funds or goods.”
At the end, the Salvation Army truck arrives and a traditional finale begins.
“Our piper Josh MacDonald plays the bagpipes and we do a bucket brigade and load the trucks. It’s truly, truly awesome,” Kline said. “We have wonderful business and individual donors, so we are now able to purchase in bulk ahead of time. It’s not easy to get a good price on or even find 130 turkeys. We really get the best bang for our buck. We have no overhead; even the Coast Capital Cadboro Bay donates the bank account fees.”
The packages start with a fresh new laundry hamper from Canadian Tire. Most include a turkey, though some have vegetarian fare, then are rounded out with cranberry sauce, stuffing mix, milk, eggs, butter, coffee, tea, carrots, onions, potatoes, fresh green vegetables, fresh fruit, bread, dessert items and sweets or treats, including candy canes and other little extras.
“On top of that our decor team, who are mostly Langham Court Theatre set designers, make decor for the top of the hampers that is made of fresh cedar boughs and bows. It’s pretty amazing. It’s like a gift,” Kline said.
“For me it’s the biggest part of the holiday. … To see people physically working tougher, who maybe have never met before … it’s the physical, tangible evidence of what’s possible. You smell the cases of oranges and the fresh coffee they’re dividing up, you see the mounds of food.”
She loves to be able to combat a “desperation” that can descend around the holiday season.
“We know that last year the Salvation Army had 2,900 requests for hampers but they were only able to make 2,400 so that means hundreds of families got turned away,” she said. “Every year someone comes up to me at the party … who has a job and is doing fine and tells me a story of how they received a hamper, leaving an abusive relationship or as a child. The people getting hampers are not welfare bums too lazy to work, they’re people who had a bunch of reversals all pile up at one time.”
Get on the mailing address for next year’s party firstname.lastname@example.org.