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Sharing the Christmas spirit

christmas-sharing

Belleville’s  Christmas Sharing program started as a way to take children to see Expo 67. Now it helps local families in need have a happier Christmas. Photo by Stephanie Clue, QNet News

By Stephanie Clue [1]

BELLEVILLE – As a kid, you’re taught that sharing is caring. That idea is being spread all over the Quinte area.

The Christmas Sharing Program [2] in Belleville was started 49 years ago to take young, disadvantaged children to see Expo 67 [3], said co-ordinator Pam Smith.

Pam Smith has been the coordinator for the Belleville Christmas sharing program for the last four years. Photo by Stephanie Clue, QNet News.

Pam Smith has been the co-ordinator for the Belleville Christmas sharing program for four years. Photo by Stephanie Clue, QNet News

“From that it morphed into the program it is today, which is helping families in need at Christmastime. We also register families with children under the age of 10 for the firefighters’ toy drive [4], and we sign folks up for the community Christmas dinner,” she said.

Smith said about 300 families have already signed up for the program. Last year the program had 1,360 families and individuals sign up for Christmas baskets.

“If people want to sponsor a family themselves they can call our office and I will find a family for them. They would buy all the food and would make arrangements with the family to deliver the baskets,” she said.

Christmas Sharing also accepts money donations. Any families not sponsored by the middle of December will be helped by the program. Smith said last year it sponsored 470 families.

Families aren’t the only ones who can donate baskets. Schools, churches and other community organizations are a huge part of the process.

“The schools have been wonderful. If it wasn’t for them and the churches and other organizations I don’t know what we would do. They really do more than their fair share.”

This year, Centennial Secondary School [5] is sponsoring 35 families and Quinte Secondary [6] is sponsoring 20.

Smith said the number of people signing up for the program has been steadily increasing since she’s been in charge.

“We’re seeing more folks who are working maybe two part-time jobs trying to keep their heads above water. A lot of them are working minimum-wage jobs that aren’t always certain. We do all that we can to accommodate them if they need help.”

Registration for baskets is 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily, but those who can’t make it in those hours can call the Christmas Sharing office and a later time can be set up.

Smith said the program has a need for drivers. Volunteers can help by delivering baskets in pairs to families in need.

“Ninety per cent of our baskets are delivered, and that’s because a lot of people don’t have any way to pick them up,” she said.

Families with young kids can be a part of the firefighters’ toy drive. Donations can be dropped off at anytime during the year at either fire hall in Belleville. Last year the drive gave toys to 1,600 kids.

“All applications are done through Christmas Sharing, and we handle kids from the ages of zero to 10,” said Ryan Turcotte, the chair of the firefighters’ toy drive.

In order for a family to qualify for the drive, the parent must have custody of the child on Christmas Day, be a Belleville resident and be considered in need or low-income.

“Last year we gave toys to between 700 and 800 families, and our record is about six kids in one family that were collecting from us,” said Turcotte.

Before the volunteers get the names and addresses of the families, generic boxes are packed for the children.

A board game is included in every box the firefighters send out for the toy drive. Photo by Stephanie Clue, QNet News

A board game is included in every box the firefighters send out for the toy drive. Photo by Stephanie Clue, QNet News

The boxes are filled with toys for specific age groups and genders. Turcotte says they try to be as generous as possible.

“We want to make sure our boxes are well planned. So we always make sure that there is one large item, like a puzzle, in each box. We also make sure we pack toques and mittens. And a board game goes into each box, because we want to promote spending quality time together as a family,” he said.

Turcotte makes sure that all of the boxes sent out have books inside. Younger children will get colouring books, while the older ones get more challenging chapter books.

Drop-off stations for toys don’t go up until after Remembrance Day. Closer to Christmas, the toy drive will be set up outside the Toys R Us [7] store in the Quinte Mall and only new toys will be accepted.

Anyone interested in donating can visit the Christmas Sharing website [2] or call the office at 613-969-1020.

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