History of the North Island Gazette Hamper Fund

Brian Welchman and Roland Shanks started the Gazette Hamper Fund in 1980.

This will be the 22nd year that I have been involved with the Gazette Hamper Fund, with my first 19 years being while I was employed at the North Island Gazette.

Even though I have found a different employer at Port Hardy Bulldozing, I have remained as the president because it truly is a great cause that I thoroughly enjoy being a part of, especially since I became a rotarian six years ago. It’s a great way to give back to our North Island communities and it has become our Christmas family tradition.

It is a huge undertaking with a very short timeframe but an amazing crew of volunteers makes it happen each and every year.

Brian Welchman and Roland Shanks started the Gazette Hamper Fund in 1980 and formed the society it is today in 1984.

During the first year of the Hamper Fund, nearly $3,000 was raised so more than two dozen families could enjoy a better Christmas. That was 37 years ago when the annual drive then was known as the Gazette Christmas Fund.

In 1980, donated cash went to buy turkeys, clothes, gifts and groceries for 30 (mostly single parent) families facing Christmas with virtually nothing. 123 children were among those families helped.

Times have changed since then, but the need has not.

Last year in 2016 over 680 hampers were delivered from Port Alice to Zeballos, including Woss, Alert Bay, Sointula, Gilford Island, and Kingcome Inlet. The need is definitely great. We provide single hampers for two people or less in the household and three or more members in the household is considered a family hamper. We also provide toys for children twelve and under. It’s not extravagant by any means but definitely covers the basics for a full dinner.

Our financial goal which has remained constant over the years has been $30,000 although with the need increasing as well as the price of food our goal this year has increased to $40,000 to cover the bills.

In the 22 years that I’ve been involved we really only had one touch and go financial year where donations were substantially down and the need was up, but as always, the North Island continues to amaze me year after year and enough money is raised. You would be amazed to see the donations coming in daily at the Gazette office from businesses big and small, as well as individuals such as senior citizens, children donating their birthday money, hockey teams, churches, schools, 20/20 groups, First Nation Bands, non-profit organizations, Toy & Rod Run, and groups like the Lions and Rotary Clubs to mention a few.

In the past 22 years alone we have collected more than $550,000 which has entirely gone back into North Island businesses. Local businesses always give us great discounts, as well as keeping donation drop boxes for the toy drive and the plastic coin buckets on their counters that you see all over, which usually bring in over $2,000 just in spare change.

The Thunderbird Mall graciously donates our Port Hardy command central location and the organizing of food and toy wrapping begins the first week of December.

The Hamper Fund board consists of 10 members, plus each member and community rounds up a team of volunteers. Port Hardy, Port McNeill, and Port Alice are the main command centres on the day of delivery. Grocery stores do all the food ordering and volunteers do the door-to- door delivery. Mackay Whale Watching usually delivers the hampers all the way to Kingcome Inlet and Gilford Island. The Port Hardy Volunteer Fire Dept delivers some of our Port Hardy hampers year after year.

My first time delivering hampers in 1995 was definitely an eye opener as a mom bursted out in tears so thankful that we brought her food and gifts for her family that she said she otherwise wouldn’t have had that Christmas! That is a constant reminder for me as to why I do it!

The biggest changes for this Hamper season is that we will be unable to accept any late applications after the Nov. 30 deadline. Year after year we receive more and more late applications. We received 170 late ones last year. This creates a lot of extra work for the grocery stores and our volunteers and needs to be more controlled. So unfortunately this year any late applications will be turned away and referred to either the Harvest Food Bank or to the Salvation Army.

The other change this year is that hampers will be delivered on a Sunday, rather than the usual Saturday in order to get the freshest bread and one day closer to the 25th. We hope the recipients get this information and will be home that day to receive their hampers.

Applications run in the Gazette all of November and are also available at the band offices, Crisis Centre, Ministry for Children & Families, Salvation Army, Harvest Food Bank, Government agent and the Gazette office, but all forms must be handed in to the Gazette themselves unless the recipient lives on a reserve, then they must hand them in to their respective band office.

Once things start to get a little more organized, all applications are handed in and we have our command centre set up, we will try to get an hourly schedule when the location at the mall is set up for any volunteers that wouldn’t mind sorting food or wrapping toys in the final week leading up to delivery day. If you are interested in volunteering please put your name and phone number forward at the Gazette office. Please note their new address at #3-7053 Market Street.

This year the delivery day to mark on your calendar is Sunday, Dec. 17 starting at 9 a.m. If you are willing to help deliver, please show up at that time behind the Thunderbird Mall. Just look for all the vehicles and it’s best to partner up with a buddy.

Lastly, to wrap this up, I just wanted to say a big thank you to everyone that makes the Hamper Fund season a success over the past 38 years!

From the donators to the volunteers, the past and present board members, and to the appreciative recipients!

It’s a long running project that I am very proud to be a part of for so long! Thank you!

– Sandy Grenier editorial