Well Christmas at the Salvation Army Community Centre in Saskatoon is just about finished. Most of it isnâ€™t my department so I get to avoid the stress of the season while at the same time as a manager, I get to help out when asked. Everyone is always amazed at how busy we are at Christmas when they are apart of even a small part of the season and so I was thinking I would share some of what happens down there here on top of our regular programs and ministries.
The Christmas Season starts with the Salvation Army Toy Run in September. It is a fun event that starts with a pancake breakfast at Prairieland Park and then hundreds of bikers get on their motorbikes and then drive to the Saskatoon Inn where they then donate toys to the Salvation Army and then eat a big lunch. This starts off our toy collection efforts for the Christmas kettles and is a fun day of connecting to the biker community in Saskatoon. Major Henri does a great job of organizing this event and I knew it was a success this year when I got caught going behind the bikes as they crossed Senator Sid Buckwold Bridge and I couldnâ€™t figure out why traffic was so slow until I saw over 100 bikes on the bridge, many with large stuffed animals riding along.
Shortly after this event, staff and officers start to look for warehouse space to house all of the food hampers and the toys for Christmas. We need a lot of space to store, sorts, and then distribute gifts and it also needs to be on a bus route (so people can get there to get their hampers). Oh yeah, it needs to be free warehouse space to keep the costs down. You have no idea how much effort goes into keeping costs down so we can help more families. I know itâ€™s easy to be cynical about it but the staff and officers care deeply about making sure we help everyone we can and part of that is keeping costs down. Well this year Confederation Mall stepped up and donated some great space in two locations in the mall. Of course there are insurance issues and getting some other stuff taken care of that I am glad that I donâ€™t have to worry about.
Of course during a year, not all things go to plan. About this time we found out that our venue for the Community Christmas Dinner wasnâ€™t going to work out. We called all around and found the White Buffalo Youth Lodge and booked it for December 5th.
During the start of November, we start to see some more seasonal staff more often. Carol organizes the Christmas Kettles which is a huge job. Carol and her husband Murdy run Beaver Creek Camp and are well known at the Centre, especially since she started to coordinate all of the kettle activities. She has a big job coordinating volunteers, Christian education students, some seasonal staff at numerous locations across the city for the start of the kettle kick off in the middle of November. About this time our Family Services manager asks if I will pick up kettles again this year and I take Friday because Mark can come along with me and it doesnâ€™t impact his bedtime as much as it would during the week.
In November there is the kettle kickoff breakfast. This is generally attended by local politicians, the service organizations and all of the people who help out and make the Christmas Kettle campaign in Saskatoon a big success. Our host for the event is the Hilton Garden Inn who is a great host for us.
Once kettles go out, they need to be picked up every night and taken to an undisclosed location to be stored, counted, and then deposited. This is a huge effort that takes a lot of volunteer and staff hours as well as a very understanding bank. This year the goal was $150,000 raised and an amazing amount of that is in coins (as you can see from looking in a kettle).
During the first week of December, we hold our Community Christmas Dinner. This is a turkey dinner for around 1000 members of the community. About two weeks before we have the dinner, we start to distribute tickets. People are happy to get these tickets and we are happy to hand them out. The week before the dinner, the Centre smells like turkey. The joke is that we have the dinner early in December so we donâ€™t get sick of turkey (as if that is possible!) and have time for the holidays. Either way the Centre smells great the first week of December. We have about 100 volunteers and VIPs who serve the meal. The meal serves as a family Christmas dinner for many families and clients who have long relationships with the Centre.
On the same morning as the Community Christmas Dinner, the Centre also hosts the Santa Shuffle. Itâ€™s a fun run (not a race) and the diehard runners brave the cold and run the race to help fund our Christmas efforts. The Running Room is a great partner for this event and while I canâ€™t figure out why people enjoy running in the bitter cold, they do seem to have a good time. Iâ€™ll take their word for it.
For my department, Residential Services, we also hold a Christmas Party for the guys. Major Henri, who serves as the chaplain for the guys (among other things), does a good job of hosting this. This year he decided we should go winter paintballing. He invited some of the staff along and about 20 of us headed to Merrill Dunes Paintball which just just south of the city. It was about â€“10 degrees Celsius that night we had a blast. The facility was wonderful and despite the cold, we were peeling layers of clothes off. Of course none of us actually stretched out before we started and we paid for it the next couple of days. I wasnâ€™t that bruised but after three hours of jogging, jumping, getting shot, falling down, getting shot, tumbling down hills, and getting shot, I was really, really sore for two days. I also was shot at such an angle, the goo from the paintball went up my nose. For many of the guys, they have never done it before and most of the guys were moved that we could do something like that. Afterwards we all headed back to the Centre for some Papa Johnâ€™s Pizza, pop, and snacks with all of the residents. Why Papa Johnâ€™s, well it is pretty great pizza and they donate a lot of pizza out of the blue to the guys at the Centre and everyone really appreciates it. Not only has Papa Johnâ€™s become the unofficial pizza of the Centre, it is also the unofficial pizza of our house.
During December, we also find some time to have a staff Christmas party. It is a nice family event that is pretty low key, partly because much of the staff is really, really tired. We had a nice supper, exchanged some gifts and then played a spirited game of Family Feud. The Centre is a pretty family friendly employer so we do see spouses and kids, it is nice to be in the same place for a relaxing night of dinner, coffee, and laughing at life. I had to laugh this year as our friend Micheala walked by Mark and called him â€œPrincessâ€ which her daughter calls Mark to bug him. Mark casually answered back while talking to one of the Front Desk staff who started to give him a hard time. Mark comes over to me and whispers to me, â€œHow do I get out of this jam? Lorne knows I answer to Princess.â€
Of course Christmas at the Centre is about Christmas Hampers. As soon as the warehouse opens in November, staff start to be allocated to the Christmas Hamper effort. We have people every day picking up toys for Rock 102 Toy Solder campaign, food donations, helping pick up stuff for Secret Santa and Brent and Pennyâ€™s Adopt-A-Family.
Around the middle of November, we see a lot more of Kelly. â€œChristmasâ€ Kelly is the most organized women I have ever seen and she comes in every fall and runs our hamper program. She is down there everyday and runs the registration process, works with churches and other agencies on making sure that people are not signed up for multiple hampers, and liaisons with almost everyone, especially our partners in Secret Santa and Brent and Penny Adopt a Family. She also works really hard getting families adopted out to other organizations. Itâ€™s cool to see.
Of course thousands of people apply for hampers and they all go into the database.
This all peaks in Hamper Handout Day on December 22nd.
Is that ever a big day. There is an army of volunteers, members of the Saskatoon Fire and Protective Services, staff, and friends all down there to distribute the food, toys, and then if needed, drive people back to their homes.
All of the leftover food and toys (the stuff in the bags is toys) is hauled down to the Centre the night of the 22nd. For those who canâ€™t pickup their hampers on 22nd, they can come down to the Salvation Army on the 23rd and pick it up. On days like this, we also correct any mistakes with toys. Kelly comes up to the staff all day with a note that says, â€œ9 year old girl and a 5 year old boyâ€ or something like that. The staff goes back to find the perfect gift from the donated toys to match up with a kid. If we canâ€™t decide on what to get the kid, we will bring up a couple of toys. If it was up to some of us, we would bring up so many toys we would need a pallet jack but there are a lot of kids to be taken care of. The toys were in our staff room and in the chapel and he we are trying to find the â€œperfect giftâ€ for a kid we donâ€™t know anything about. Itâ€™s fun.
Late today we finally unwrapped the toys that were not picked up. Mark was there and helped unwrap, sort, and tomorrow they will be packed up. His opinion was also solicited for a couple of gift requests. The reason that we unwrap gifts is that by the end of today, we were running low on some age groups of toys and we needed to know what we had and if they are being stored for next season, we need to know what we have next year. Of course with that many of us who are (ahem) middle aged, there was all sorts of reminiscing going on. â€œI had one of those!â€ â€œI wanted one of these?â€ â€œThese were better when I was a kid!â€.
Once Christmas morning comes along, the shelter will be full and maybe even overflowing. While some guys have families to go to, most do not. Also a lot of guys who are living in really horrible boarding houses or flophouses will evaluate their current lodging and decide that a dorm bed at the Salvation Army with friendly staff and good food is better than the booze and violence that comes from their current location.
The cooks come in at 8:30 a.m. and if I value my life, I will be down there for coffee with them. The first batch of food will come out around 9:00 a.m. and the guys will be able to eat all day long. We have a 42 inch television that we will show BBCâ€™s Planet Earth on all day while on our other television, we will show comedyâ€™s. I gave a couple of options to the guys: Band of Brothers, Season One of Battlestar Galactica, Star Warsâ€¦ Planet Earth won out. I learned during this process that some of the footage from Mutual of Omahaâ€™s Wild Kingdom was faked. Apparently some of the animals were actually trained and not wild footage. Iâ€™m shocked too.
Maggi also comes to the Centre on Christmas morning for a game of fetch and running around sniffing people. The guys will think she is a drug dog and be a little freaked out but thatâ€™s okay too. Wendy and one of our staff, Anita, wrapped up 81 gifts for the guys. We had planned to get the guys some hoodies but our supplier called us a month ago in a panic over them being back ordered. Instead we got the guys some really nice gift packages. Wendy bought them all at Wal-Mart and she wants me to make it clear how incredibly helpful the Wal-Mart staff was in not only running through a massive sale but also in loading them all in our van for her, checking out that they were exactly what she needed, and pushing through the three carts around the store. A whole bunch of churches and businesses have dropped off stuff from the Christmas Gift Guide for the Homeless which will be distributing as well. Thanks to everyone that helped out.
Well there you go. Thatâ€™s a slice of Christmas for you. It doesnâ€™t tell the whole picture but it hopefully give you an idea of what the staff at the Centre do there.