It is a big gift, delivered early.

It is a big gift, delivered early.

The Manitoba Metis Federation has kicked off the Christmas Cheer Board’s season with a $50,000 donation.

"It’s not every day we get donations of this size," said Kai Madsen, Cheer Board executive director. "In a year of a pandemic, it’s even more important. It’ll help a lot of people at Christmas time."

The century-old Winnipeg charity will be mailing out food vouchers in 2020 instead of delivering food hampers, as a precaution against COVID-19.

An individual who needs help will get a $30 food voucher. A family of two to three members will get one for $50, four to five in a family will get a $75 voucher, and six and up will get a $100 voucher.

"When you’re dealing with vouchers, there’s no donation aspect. It’s not like when we’re making hampers where we buy some things, but we get a lot of other things donated. When it’s vouchers, it’s like cash," said Madsen.

"We realize it’s not the same as having a food hamper, but at least it lets people know that people in Winnipeg care."

The MMF donation "will go a long way to help, and I can only keep my fingers crossed that this will continue to happen up until Christmas and we can look after a whole bunch of people," said Madsen, who is celebrating his 51st year with the Cheer Board.

"(Madsen is) Santa Claus. He’s given half of his life to this. Without people like him, 21,000 people wouldn’t have Christmas," said David Chartrand, MMF president.

"I praise the Christmas Cheer Board for what they do. People seem to forget that every year there’s 21,000 families that depend on this," said Chartrand. "I know what poverty is. I know what it feels like to want and hope that Christmas will be there."

The MMF usually contributes $5,000, in addition to toys, food and other gifts designated for Cheer Board hampers, but Chartrand said leadership knew it wouldn’t be enough this year.

"We can’t give $5,000, that’s not going to help what (the Cheer Board) is trying to do. It won’t save Christmas," said Chartrand. "It’s about all of us as Manitobans. We can’t let people down and we can’t leave anyone behind.

"Every child should have the right to have at least some form of Christmas."

Thinking of his own traditions for the holidays, Chartrand said he’s glad the MMF can at least help families dine together. Chartrand said his mom would unite his family during celebrations by gathering in the kitchen to cook.

"Everyone would work together, come in the kitchen and help her out," he said. "Her plan was to make sure the family was always collectively together. And you see all the laughter in the kitchen, and everyone knows their part.

"You can’t buy that. It’s priceless."

Chartrand said he hopes the MMF’s donation will encourage other organizations to remember the Cheer Board this season. (The Free Press has launched its annual Miracle on Mountain fundraising support campaign.)

"I hope our industries and governments will do the same and say, ‘If the Métis government can do it, we can do it, too.’"