Agassiz-Harrison Community Services executive director Bobbi Jacob (left) hands canned food to Lisa Hodgkinson at the food bank Monday as the organization gears up for Christmas.

Christmas hampers are back in Agassiz-Harrison

The program returns for its second year to help families who need a hand during the holidays

It’s a normal weeknight at the Loosdrecht household in Harrison: Zoe has her seven-month-old Alayah strapped to her front while cooking dinner, her husband Jason calmly answers the excited barrage of questions and demands from their three older children who range from three to eight years old.

It’s a standard scene of controlled chaos that many parents-of-four undergo every day, but there is an underlying problem for this family—one that is also becoming too common.

“Our budget falls short in many places so we often just have to juggle things around,” says Jason at their dinner table.

It’s a financial crunch that the family feels more in the holiday season.

“For the kids, if you have to access those funds they already know that they don’t have as much as other children,” Zoe adds. “But especially during Christmas, it’s nice for them to receive things that they generally wouldn’t have.”

Jason was self-employed but he had to sell his business and change jobs, taking a low-paying trucking position in Vancouver out of desperation. He’s since found something local, but still has some career-building to do to reach a comfortable income.

Zoe stays with the kids and home schools them. It’s something they decided to do when they pulled their eldest Olecia from school in Grade 1 because of struggles due to her sensory needs and learning disabilities.

But last year the kids barely noticed their family’s budgetary struggles, and Zoe and Jason were relieved when they signed up for the Adopt-A-Family Christmas Hamper Program run by Agassiz-Harrison Community Services (AHCS).

“We got food and we were able to go pick toys for our kids and that was amazing,” Zoe says. “It was nice to be able to pick them and some clothes, jammies and books.”

Olecia is animated as she remembers the blow pens she got from mom and dad last year, courtesy of the AHCS program. Those small tiny toys that the eight-year-old needs to help keep her focused are an example of the extras that are difficult for the family to afford, but that make a big difference in the kids’ lives.

“I got army lego,” says their seven-year-old son Josh. “It was huge, it was just so huge.”

In a his world, friends are always getting new video games and other expensive toys that the Loosdrechts can’t afford.

“When they get older it’s harder,” Zoe says. “The little ones are kind of oblivious.”

But with both the younger and the older kids, Zoe and Jason repeatedly tell them that objects won’t make them happy.

“If it wasn’t for this [program] to get them Christmas presents it would just be in their face so much more,” Zoe says.

She can’t imagine what kind of comparisons kids in the public school system go through with their toys and clothes.

 

Second year of Adopt-a-Family in Agassiz

Last year was the first year the Loosdrechts sought help for their holidays and the program’s inception coincided nicely for that family.

In its first year the Adopt-A-Family Christmas Hamper Program created 125 hampers for families of various sizes around the community, says the organization’s new executive director Bobbi Jacob.

If an individual or family wants to help, they just need to contact AHCS and state what size family they want to pitch in for.

The cost starts at $90 and goes up to $190 for a larger family.

“We have a list of what goes in the hamper, so they go and get the food,” Jacob says. “The adopter collects the food based on the list, but community services buys the fresh food.”

The hamper includes all the collected and purchased holiday food items and awaits the recipients at the Agassiz Legion No. 32 on a designated collection day.

“People sometimes ask if they can deliver their hamper to the family, but for privacy reasons we don’t allow that,” adds Jacob.

At the legion there is also a Santa’s workshop that sponsored parents can go to and pick up one toy for each child.

It’s a true community-run program with the sponsors making it all possible, Jacob says.

Last year Britco was the largest contributor, sponsoring 10 families.

“We feel it’s important to give back to the community that we are in,” says Lisa Tinga human resources supervisor of Britco’s Agassiz location. “We’ve always had a strong sense of corporate responsibility.”

She’s in charge of the local location’s participation in the hamper program, and explains that there is an internal competition among employees to raise money and collect food.

Britco will then match those donations, and the combined amount goes to the AHCS to help spread Christmas joy to families in need.

To become a recipient, families only need to prove they live in the Agassiz Harrison area. There’s no means test, according to Jacob.

“Nobody’s going to come take gifts if they can afford to buy for their own children,” she says.

Up until last year Jason and his family never had to rely on the aid of strangers. It’s all new to them.

And their very grateful for the boost while they get their feet back on the ground.

“We’re finding it a great support during this season that we’re in,” he says. “We were just blown away how the help is there when we needed it.”

Their household buzzes along happily as the holiday season approaches, the kids returning back to their toys.