Empty Stocking Fund: Ukrainian family among those helped by Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows Christmas Hamper program

Each Christmas, the MRPM Christmas hamper runs a toy shop and Rudolph’s Recycle Gift Shoppe out of the barn used for the area’s annual Country Fest.

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For at least one Ukrainian family this year, the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows Christmas Hamper came through with flying colours.

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“It’s just too raw for a lot of these families to talk about what they left behind and why they had to leave,” said program head Tina Kirkpatrick. “You can see the pain in their eyes.”

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However, the program’s toy barn had a magical effect.

“It was like someone flipped a switch. There was a mother and her older daughter, and they just couldn’t stop smiling. They were just beaming for the whole three hours that they were shopping. They couldn’t believe it.”

Each Christmas, the MRPM Christmas hamper runs a toy shop and Rudolph’s Recycle Gift Shoppe out of the barn used for the area’s annual Country Fest. The organization also gives out gift cards to needy families and individuals. Last year, the program helped 237 families in the area.

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“That was low for us, and I attribute that to the CERB,” Kirkpatrick said. “I think a lot of families may have saved their money.”

When The Province talked to her, 209 people had signed on, with two weeks of registration left.

The MRPM Christmas hamper is one of 26 Lower Mainland Christmas bureaus and groups helped by readers of The Province through its annual Empty Stocking Fund.

“We use the ESF funds as needed,” Kirkpatrick said. “They could be assigned to toys, to grocery gift cards. When the donations start coming in, some people want to bring in grocery gift cards, some just want to bring in toys. It depends on where the gap is for us financially.”

Registered families are given virtual dollars to shop for gifts for their kids in the toy barn. Many of the toys come from the Lower Mainland Christmas Bureau.

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“We’ll put a dollar value on it, so it’ll be $5, $10, $25, whatever. And then each family comes in and they have a shopper who goes around with them. And then we have gift cards for the teenagers as well.”

Families can also be sponsored by a private donor through the organization’s Good Neighbour Program.

“We tell families who register for it that they need to understand that the donor will want to deliver those items to your home. And the reason for that is a lot of our Good Neighbours like to use it as a teaching moment for their young children. It’s all about teaching the young ones about giving and sharing.”

Kirkpatrick has noticed a decline in people wanting to be sponsored by a private donor.

“I’ve heard firsthand from some of them that they don’t want people coming to the homes, which is perfectly understandable. In those cases, I say, ‘Well, we have plenty of things here for you in the toy barn.’ ”

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For the Ukrainian family mentioned above, one of several who have registered this year, Kirkpatrick opened the doors to the toy barn for a full day. The family includes eight kids ages one to 13. After three hours of shopping, the family left with toys, bikes and even some quilts.

“A local quilters’ guild donated 40 handmade quilts that they’d made over the course of the year, and I gave the family three for the much younger ones and the baby, and one for the parents. And this was on top of everything else. The family was very humble and gracious. And ecstatic, actually.”

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