Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Christmas Cheer Board

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What they do:

THE Christmas Cheer Board is one of Winnipeg's oldest and most popular charities, supported by anonymous donations of time and money from 5,000 individuals and business people every year.

Founded in 1919 by Winnipeg churches, the board is community based and delivers Christmas hampers to needy families every year. The late Byrdye Beckel ran the charity for years; the face of the board these days is Kai Madsen and behind the scenes he's been with the board since the 1970s.

This year, 20,000 plus hampers, including presents and toys, were assembled.

 

Hopes for the holidays:

 

The hope is always the same.

For families who can't afford to celebrate Christmas, the board boxes up the fixings for a traditional turkey dinner, plus dry goods and candy for the holiday season, and gifts for under the tree.

As such, the board's history reflects the peaks and valleys of the city's social conditions over a century. In good times, demand drops off for thousands of families. These families tend to grab hold of a measure of stability a couple of years after everyone else starts to prosper.

In bad times, demand rises again, only it takes a lot less time. Within a year of a recession, those thousands start to find themselves back on the cheer board's Christmas list.

There's a cycle in this city of poverty and prosperity; 15 years ago demand topped 24,000. By 2007, it had dropped off by about 25 per cent.

Since then, demand's reversed again; 75 more families in '08, 375 more in '09 and 600 on top of that this year. Some 19,700 hampers were assembled this year.

 

How you can help

"This organization belongs to all of us," Madsen said, explaining the philosophy of Christmas at the cheer board in characteristic straight talk. "If you want us to do a good job, you have to support us. Obviously, when you look around this place, you can see we're not empire builders. And the advantage to doing it that way (through volunteers) is we have almost no costs."

Full-time non-profits can have annual overheads 30 cents or more on every dollar collected. The board? Five cents.

Jan. 5 is lunch for some 150 core volunteers, including people such as Muriel Gale, who answered a call to help out 34 years ago and has returned year after year. She's now chief elf in charge of toys and presents. Gale used to work at the former Eatons department store.

The push for donations begins in November when The Christmas Cheer Board opens its doors again. The bare break-even mark is $500,000.

To sign up as an elf or to make a donation, call the year round number at 204-669-5369 or for more information, click below

 

Profiles of those making a difference during the holiday season

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 24, 2010 A22

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