Doreen Szor believes in paying it forward — and she’s been doing so for four decades as a volunteer with the Christmas Cheer Board.

Doreen Szor believes in paying it forward — and she’s been doing so for four decades as a volunteer with the Christmas Cheer Board.

"As a young parent, I had to rely on the Cheer Board. I wanted to return the favour," Szor says as she marks 40 years as a Cheer Board volunteer.

"I just love being with people. I start in November and I’m there until the end of December every year," the retiree says.

Szor checks applications as they come in, ensures applicants qualify, and responds to questions and any special needs or requests.

"When I see a senior with a low income, they may not be aware that they may be eligible for a supplement; for others on a low income, I let them know about the rent supplement. I make them aware of resources."

The Christmas Cheer Board of Greater Winnipeg began after the end of the First World War, when churches in Winnipeg provided hampers to the widows and orphans of the war.

The need for support only increased over the years. In the 1940s the Christmas Cheer Board became a registered charity; its generosity has now been appreciated for over a century.

Every year more than 16,000 hampers are distributed to Winnipeggers in need. More than 300 volunteers work long hours, hundreds of knitters knit all year to make extra gifts for children, and volunteer drivers face harsh wintry conditions to ensure hampers are delivered.

Countless individuals, businesses and organizations donate food and toys to provide for thousands in Winnipeg.

Volunteer co-ordinator Debra Halligan has seen Szor’s commitment first-hand and values her level of dedication.

"Doreen is one special volunteer who has put in so many years of volunteering. Last year she manned the call-centre phones because that is where she was needed. She did it with a smile on her face and did it well.

"She is so kind in her dealings with applicants. We are so lucky to have volunteers like Doreen who have put in so much time and yet have so much left to give."

Szor remembers many of the people she’s interacted with over the years, those going through rough periods, the lonely, some without homes, others embarrassed about seeking assistance.

"We don’t know their story," she says. "Their survival skills are amazing. I reassure them that we all come on to hard days. I try to be a comfort for them.

"I believe everybody deserves a Christmas meal — and the gifts for the children are important too."

Halligan’s four years at the Cheer Board have reminded her that volunteering is good for the soul; there are 300 other volunteers who feel the same way.

"I get so much more from volunteering than I give," she says. "Everyone needs to find something that brings them joy and the Christmas Cheer Board does it for me.

"When I retired from retail management, I wanted to change directions and Christmas has always been dear to me. I have most definitely found my niche here. I love the atmosphere, the drive and the sheer enjoyment all our volunteers have. Because of COVID and some adjustments to our processes, I have been moving volunteers around to different teams. Their dedication and willingness to do whatever is necessary is truly inspiring."

"Volunteers are so important here. Pay it forward if you can," adds Szor, who intends to continue to give her time to the organization she cherishes.

There are numerous opportunities to help Winnipeg’s community effort during the holiday season. Donors can sponsor a Christmas hamper and become a part of the Feed-a-Family program. People can organize toy drives or fundraisers, or knit warm outerwear, which is popular with both children and parents.

The new smaller Christmas Cheer Board space is located at 1081 Ellice Ave. Volunteers ask those calling or coming in to have patience as they navigate the huge workload.

fpcity@freepress.mb.ca