Cheer Board overwhelmed by requests for help
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In its 103-year history, the Christmas Cheer Board has never witnessed such despair.
The board had planned to distribute about 1,000 more hampers this year over last — but organizers fear that won’t come close to meeting the needs of Winnipeggers who are struggling amid high inflation and interest rates.
Cheer Board executive director Shawna Bell said they were swamped with a record number of phone calls on Monday from people who requested a hamper.
“There were 43,000 calls,” Bell said on Tuesday. “Last year, we received 23,000 calls on our first day. So we received almost double. Approximately 2,300 persons make up over 25,000 (of the) calls.
“The record was one phone number called us 900 times. They wanted to get a real person on the phone. This shows how many have need out there. I don’t know if we’ll be able to help all of them.”
The board is facing its own cash crunch. It budgeted for about 18,000 Christmas food hampers to be distributed this year, an increase from just under 17,000 handed out last year.
Bell worries it won’t meet the burgeoning need in the city.
“I know we will exceed (18,000) handily,” she said. “(but) there’s just no scenario where we can respond to that need.”
Bell said while donations would help — whether online at www.christmascheerboard.ca or through various fundraisers, including the Miracle on Mountain campaign by the Free Press, there’s something else they urgently need now: food and toys.
“There were 43,000 calls. Last year, we received 23,000 calls on our first day. So we received almost double.”–Shawna Bell
The Cheer Board might not be able to convert monetary donations into food and toys fast enough, so donations of items are welcome. She said they can be dropped off during the day at 1821 Wellington Ave.
Canned tuna, vegetables and fruit, pasta and sauce, rice, peanut butter, jelly powder, cereal and pantry staples are the most-needed items.
In the toy department, the board accepts items such as Lego, action figures, board games, puzzles, trivia games and science sets. All toys must be new and the package should be intact.
“We have just announced upwards of an extra $9 million towards food banks in the province of Manitoba, so that’s upwards of $15 million, so those organizations can apply through those programs to seek funding,” Stefanson said.
“We have just announced upwards of an extra $9 million towards food banks in the province of Manitoba, so that’s upwards of $15 million.” –Premier Heather Stefanson:wfppullquote
The board is far from the only program coping with an increased number of people seeking help.
Luke Thiessen, spokesman for Siloam Mission, said they have witnessed an increased need and a higher number of people attending its soup kitchen at 300 Princess St.
“The average number of meals we were serving was down for a long time during the pandemic, for a lot of different reasons, but just in the past several months we have seen a sustained increase in the number of people coming to us for meals,” Thiessen said.
“Our daily numbers are at or exceeding the number of meals we were serving before March 2020. In other service areas, we’ve increased capacity, so it’s hard to compare directly — but demand for a lot of services has been on the rise.”
For example, before the pandemic, 400 to 500 people would show up at mealtime. On Monday, 600 people were fed breakfast.
“There are a number of factors making life harder for those experiencing homelessness, and those who are vulnerable and living on very thin margins,” he said. “The cost of food is likely one of the larger and more recent drivers.”
Thiessen said Siloam has launched its Christmas fundraising campaign to help stock its shelves and pay for its annual Christmas dinner.
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.