By Miriam Ostermann, Associate Editor
Despite a surge of interest after the Strathmore and Wheatland County Christmas Hamper Society was brought into the 20th century with social media and various communication tools, the openhanded organization is perplexed with donations and hamper applications that took a nosedive in comparison to previous years.
A large majority of tables and shelves remain bare, covered with only 10,000 items – a 30 per cent decline over last year at this time.
While donations are expected to climb closer to the Dec. 15 deadline, a growing concern of fracturing among the community is spreading some doubt about the accumulation of this year’s target – and last year’s final count – of 33,000 items.
“I know that all the groups are feeling some effect this year, there’s something going on that isn’t real obvious,” said Craig Stone, chairperson for the Strathmore and Wheatland County Christmas Hamper Society.
“There is a tremendous amount of outside community projects, that’s one thing. But there’s a lot of in-our-community projects that are also going on too. It’s commendable to everybody doing something, but the problem with dividing and everybody doing their own individual projects is you get to the point where you really fear that you’re going to fracture, and you will fracture.
“The whole system and the people that are really needing the help are not going to get the proper help, because you’ve fractured it in so many directions that nobody is going to benefit.”
Expecting a large turnout last year, the society prepared 260 hampers. Although applications remain low at 105 as of last week, Stone expected to receive over 100 more applications this week. In speaking with the Wheatland County Food Bank, he believes their non-stop demand is more of a realistic indication of the need that’s going to befall the society this year.
The society theorized that perhaps the reason last year’s numbers didn’t meet their expectations is because families are feeling the pinch this year and are less likely able to afford donating items and money, and are rather keeping it for themselves.
Other organizations in Strathmore have also noticed a slowdown in donations.
The recently created Adopt a Family initiative is similar in concept, but director of outreach Richard Rodgers said the cause was not meant to step on the toes of other organizations. Furthermore, he noted the families were handpicked by himself and consist of working families that are just above the criteria.
“One of our concepts is not to interfere with any other organization at all,” Rodgers said. “I handpicked these families that have never been in the system. We’re not in competition. We’re not here to steal their thunder, we’re just here to fill the gap a little. I respect all those organizations that are helping other families.”
Stone added that he is interested in meeting with the other organizations in 2018 and possibly partnering up in the future, a proposal Rodgers was interested in as well.
According to Stone, the society is aiming to fill 260 hampers again this year. The hampers provide each family with roughly $700 worth of food. This year, the organization also sought health and nutritional authorities and aims to increase its perishable items like carrots, potatoes, onions, cauliflower, apples, turkeys and milk by 40 per cent.
The creation of a Facebook page in October and the utilization of other social media tools also attracted the attention of many community members interested in finding out how and where to donate. A website is also in the works for the coming year.
Food items and cheques can be dropped off at the quonset on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9:30 a.m. until noon, as well as the Family and Community Support Services (FCSS) and the Wheatland FCSS offices. Donation bins are also located at various establishments around town.
All donations must be made by Dec. 15.
“We’re really fortunate to be in a community that really supports us,” said Stone. “In the end I’m not in fear because our community will come through as it has every other year; but we do need food we do need cash to be able to meet our targets and we do the best we can.”