IT'S probably as close as my family will ever get to being Santa Claus.
My 12-year-old son, Alex, and I delivered a Christmas Cheer Board hamper on Saturday evening to a less-fortunate family in the North End.
A couple of days before, the two of us and his 15-year-old sister, Mia, hit Price Chopper and Zellers, to buy groceries, including everything you need for a turkey dinner, and presents for three kids.
We purposely hit the discount stores so we could get more bang for our bucks and feel like we could splurge a little, like when we picked up the large container of Tim Hortons coffee grounds instead of the no-name version.
The shopping experience was pretty much the same as when we go grocery shopping for ourselves, except this time both kids knew the answer to the, "Dad, can we get this?" question would be "yes."
We've put together a hamper a couple of times before, primarily because my wife, Megan, used to teach in the inner city, and knew first-hand that Christmas can have a very different meaning to some Winnipeggers. My former editor, Julian Rachey, always a big supporter of the Cheer Board's effort every year, encouraged me to lend a hand, too.
When we pulled up the house of our "Cheer Board family," one of the kids was peeking out from behind the curtains. We brought in the bags of groceries and presents, said "hello" to the single mother of three youngsters watching a Christmas special on television, wished them all a Merry Christmas and were on our way.
We were in and out in a couple of minutes but it was enough for Alex to say the best part of the whole process was walking into the house to see three smiling and happy kids.
"It's important to realize that we're lucky and we should help people who aren't as fortunate, especially around Christmas time," he said.
There were thousands of other helpers once again this year. Kai Madsen, the longtime executive director of the Cheer Board, said while the last of 18,732 hampers were delivered last Sunday afternoon, he still needs a little bit of help -- from your chequebook.
"We're a little bit behind (with fundraising) from where we were last year. We're short about $20,000," Madsen said.
Madsen is one of the few business operators in town who is happier when some of his numbers go down. This year, for example, applications for hampers dropped by about three per cent.
"I hope that's a good sign, a tremendous sign," he said.
"(Demand) has levelled off over the last four or five years. We saw huge increases in '05-06. Last year, it was only up 144 (hampers), which on 19,000 isn't much of an increase."
"Things have really come together nicely. It's been a great year. I'm awed at how well things have progressed. We're just looking forward to a little more money."
Please send your donations to The Spirit of Christmas, c/o Winnipeg Free Press, 1355 Mountain Ave., Winnipeg, R2X 3B6.