Cheer Board opening toy chest again after pandemic locked it last Christmas


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There will be toys — and smiles — for children this Christmas.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 12/11/2021 (569 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

There will be toys — and smiles — for children this Christmas.

The Christmas Cheer Board will be able to distribute them this year after the pandemic forced the toy box to stay closed last year.

“We’re bringing back toys,” said interim executive director Shawna Bell. “That was a huge miss by people last year.

Mike Sudoma / Winnipeg Free Press Shawna Bell, Executive Director of the Christmas Cheer Board in the midst of a few of the boxes of toys that are wrapped and ready to be donated at the Christmas Chessboard headquarters.

“I’m happy about that because that’s where the magic starts. We want to make sure kids have something on Christmas Day.”

Bell said the charity will be run out of the former Restore/Safeway at Ellice Avenue and Wall Street, but only for this year. The Cheer Board had been housed behind the Lee Valley store further west on Ellice Avenue, and it has a long history of having to move every few years.

“We’ve been transient for so very long,” said Bell, who has been part of the organization for two of its more than 10 decades of service.

“But this space is only good for this year because of our diminished capacity. It is 14,000 square feet, but when we are fully up and running we need 40,000 square feet.”

That’s because the board will hand out grocery-store vouchers for a second year, because of the pandemic, instead of hampers stuffed with all the fixings for Christmas dinner, including a turkey, as well as extra food.

Bell said knitted mittens and scarves will be given alongside many of the grocery vouchers, which will allow people to shop at Sobeys, Safeway, FreshCo and IGA stores.

The vouchers will range from $40 for a single person, $60 for two to three people and up to $115 for six people and more.

Longtime executive director Kai Madsen said during last year’s campaign he was hopeful the grocery-store vouchers would need to be put in place of the traditional hampers for only one year. Madsen also longed for the return of putting toys for kids with hampers.

But COVID-19 had other plans and with the virus still out there the Cheer Board decided grocery vouchers would have to be used for one more year.

Madsen, who was with the Cheer Board for 52 years, serving as volunteer and board member, president and then executive director, stepped down in August because of health reasons, and died on Oct. 6.

Bell said the Cheer Board has to submit its grocery orders for the hampers by early September, and when the COVID-19 case numbers began to rise again, a decision was required.

“It was not something that the board was comfortable gambling on. (And) with public-health orders in place, we still couldn’t pull off what we do in a ‘normal’ year.”

The Cheer Board officially kicked off this year’s campaign Friday and begin taking applications for help.

People will be able to pick up the grocery vouchers or have them delivered by volunteers.

As for how everything gets paid for, well, that’s up to generous donors.

“It’s just unbelievable how many people have been helped by the Cheer Board through the years,” said Bell.

“I went and saw Kai Madsen’s family at the end of October, and they know what this organization was like for him. I hope people keep him and us in their hearts. We want to carry on his legacy.”


Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.

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