May 31, 2020

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Opinion

Providing much-needed hampers, and happiness

At the Christmas Cheer Board, 'we just want them to know they're surrounded by love'

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 18/12/2017 (895 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

If you call the Christmas Cheer Board, it’s likely you’ll talk to Brian Quail.

For the second year in a row, Quail is volunteering as a switchboard operator — directing calls, answering questions and taking donations.

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Brian Quail is one of roughly 2,900 volunteers who make the Christmas Cheer Board possible.</p>

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Brian Quail is one of roughly 2,900 volunteers who make the Christmas Cheer Board possible.

"It’s the people (here) that make volunteering worthwhile," Quail says. "To see the dedication of all the people is just amazing."

The care he received after injuring his left hand at work inspired Quail to start volunteering.

"I spent 2½ years with a physiotherapist and occupational therapist that went above and beyond," he says.

"They stayed so positive... I made up my mind then that I was going to give back to people."

The cheer board helps Winnipeggers living on social assistance, as well as the working poor, by giving them Christmas hampers that include food and presents — Quail is one of the 400 warehouse volunteers and approximately 2,500 volunteer drivers who make the organization possible.

Robyn Andrews is another one of those volunteers.

A mother of three, Andrews said she and her husband have modelled the importance of volunteering to their children from an early age.

She remembers when she began volunteering as a driver with the cheer board nine years ago, with her three young children in tow.

Since then, Andrews and her children have done everything from rolling pennies to assisting people who pick up their hampers.

"That’s what this season is about," Andrews says.

"It’s about giving and being connected, and helping people who live in our own city."

She remembers one woman who came in and asked if the cheer board had a stand she could use to put up her Christmas tree.

They don’t typically have tree stands on hand, but Andrews looked around and found an assortment of used Christmas items, which just happened to include a stand.

"Tears were streaming down her face," Andrews remembers.

"It was the one thing she needed to make her Christmas special. Someone had dropped it off, and it was just meant for her. It was like this little Christmas miracle that happened before our eyes."

Volunteers are the backbone of the cheer board, volunteer co-ordinator Sonya Watson says.

"We could absolutely not do this work without them," she says.

The hampers help welcome newcomers to the city, Watson adds, and they give a bit of assistance to people who are unemployed or struggling with a limited income.

"We just want them to know they’re surrounded by love, and we want them to have some hope that things will get better," Watson says.

At the switchboard, Quail knows how thankful recipients of the hampers can be — not too long ago, he spoke with an elderly man who called to express his gratitude.

"(The hamper) was so big, he could hardly carry it, and he was so grateful to have it," Quail says.

"That is what makes it worthwhile. That’s how you know you’re making a difference."

If you know a special volunteer, please contact aaron.epp@gmail.com.

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