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Many ways to spread Christmas cheer this season

Local charities looking for contributions to help people over the holidays

clare@piquenewsmagazine.com

Christmas may be the season of frantic shopping, menu planning and merry-making. But it is also the time of year when more people think of those less fortunate than they are and wonder what they can do to help.

Traditional charities, such as the United Way, are always popular but there are also many great options in Whistler where the help you give stays close to home.

"Whistler Community Services has about 20 programs and services and people can either donate specifically to a program or you can just donate to the programs in general," said Janet McDonald, executive director of the society.

The organization is the midst of its Christmas Hamper program. Through it the Whistler Community Services Society helps about 25 Whistler families enjoy Christmas by providing all the fixings for a turkey dinner, gift certificates to buy fresh food and presents for the family.

"Not quite as many families have applied this year, but that may be because everyone is holding off until the last minute," said McDonald.

Anyone who needs a little help is encouraged to get hold of the WCSS. All information is kept in strictest confidence and, said McDonald, families are not put through an onerous application process as that can just push those who need help away. Families, organizations clubs and others sponsor the hampers in the community.

The WCSS is also working hard on its annual food drive.

"Most of the food winds up coming in over Christmas and it carries us through for a good part of the year, so we really rely on this time of year to get the non-perishable food in," said McDonald.

"Cash is also very handy because it means that when we run out of stuff we can buy what we need. And we tend to run out of the staples like peanut butter, tuna, and pasta sauces."

If you want to give money you can mail a cheque to PO Box 900, Whistler, B.C., V0N 1B0. Or phone in to 604-932-0113 with a credit card number. People can also drop by the office in Myrtle Philip Community School with cash.

The Mount Currie Lil’Wat Christmas Bureau hamper drive is also under way. And, said co-ordinator Sharon Edmonds, they are also looking for toys.

"We needs gifts for toddler and teens," she said, adding that for some families the toys in the hamper are the only toys the kids get for Christmas.

Money donations are also needed as the bureau gets ready to go shopping to fill the hampers.

You can mail a cheque to the Lil’wat Christmas Bureau at Box 161, Mount Currie, B.C., V0N 2K0. To arrange toy pick up in Whistler call 1-604-894-6656 or drop the toys at the Mount Currie Health Care Centre.

Canadians donated $8 billion to non-profit groups last year and added two billion hours in volunteer work, the equivalent of a million full-time jobs according to the latest Statistics Canada report.

Statistics also reveal that charity donations in 2003 were the highest ever reported. Among those who filed tax returns, donations totalled $6.5 billion, an 11.4 per cent increase from 2002. The number of donors rose by 1.2 per cent to just under 5.6 million.

The median donation has continued to increase during the last decade. In 2003 it was $220, up from $210 in 2002.

However, it’s worth reflecting on a report from Visa Canada that nearly three million British Columbians plan to spend an average of $1,039 on Christmas gifts, for a total of nearly $3 billion this year. That’s an increase of 36 per cent over last year.

In B.C., Visa cardholders have already spent $380 million on their Visa cards between Nov. 26 and Dec.1. That’s up four per cent over last year.

The study also revealed that spouses spent about $289 on gifts for each other and parents usually spend about $180 on each of their children.

If these sobering numbers have you looking around for a way to spread the wealth you could also consider giving locally to the Tenth Annual Realtors Care Blanket Drive.

"Every night when I get under warm, dry covers in my bed, I think, ‘there but for the Grace of God go I,’" says Val Orchison, area co-ordinator for Squamish and Whistler. "The Blanket Drive helps give a little warmth to those who aren't so lucky."

She hopes the generosity of area residents will exceed last year’s 25 bags.

The number of people with nowhere to call home has doubled since 2001. These people rely on shelters and local outreach groups the entire year, but even more when winter arrives.

From Dec. 6 through Dec. 13, the Realtors Care Blanket Drive is encouraging area residents to support realtors in their efforts to collect much needed blankets, sleeping bags, tarps, warm clothing, waterproof coats, socks, toiletries and non-perishable food items for local charities.

Since 1994, this event has donated more than 8,000 bags of necessities to charities in our communities. This year co-ordinators hope to collect 2,000. For a list of drop locations throughout the Lower Mainland region, visit www.RealtorsCare.org.

Meanwhile volunteers are also needed in Whistler for the Salvation Army Annual Christmas Kettle Drive.

"It is the first year it has been done in Whistler," said organizer Jill Jacques. "I have given to them for years and years on my own… and I thought it might be a nice idea to do (set up a kettle drive) here.

"The response has been phenomenal. I have had a lot of people come to me and say, ‘thanks for doing this,’ and they make a donation so it has been very well received."

Jacques still needs cheerful people to help with collections at the Kettle sites in Whistler. One person is required at each station from 2 to 5 p.m. and from 5 to 8 p.m. everyday from Dec. 3 to Dec. 25. A big smile and a warm thank you are the only requirements.

Kettles will be in several locations: Nesters, IGA, between Pharmasave and The Liquor store in Market Place and outside The Grocery Store and Liquor Store in the Village Square.

The Salvation Army provides meals, housing counselling and companionship for the elderly and the less fortunate. Many Whistler, Squamish and Pemberton residents frequent the North Shore Sally Ann for great buys on clothing, household items or a hot meal.

"And when the floods were here last year they did come to Squamish and they helped quite a bit with the Squamish flood victims," said Jacques.

Contact Jill Jacques for an information package at 604-905-6334 or jillj@direct.ca .




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