As with most events this year, Christmas and the holiday season will be just a little bit different.
There won’t be any opportunity to sit on Santa’s lap at malls, fewer holiday gatherings and according to Lower Mainland Christmas Bureau executive director Chris Bayliss, there have just been struggles all around.
Many of the bureau’s events have been turned “all the way upside down,” Bayliss told Black Press Media by phone. All events have gone virtual, been heavily scaled down to comply with COVID-19 safety plans or been cancelled altogether..
“Our first couple of big events, the toy numbers are far down, the financial support is way down,” he said. “They’re all impacted. It’s a challenge.”
The impact stretches beyond the regional bureau and all the way to local ones in cities like Surrey and Langley, with the Lower Mainland office supports. The Lower Mainland Christmas Bureau supports an average of 1,000 families annually and works with 40 other bureaus and agencies, providing material support and shipping more than 145,000 items to them. The bureau also distributes almost $70,000 in supermarket gift cards to families.
Bayliss said the recent Vancouver Motorcycle Toy Run drive-thru drop off resulted in just one-quarter the toy donations they usually get. Their Cruise for Kids car rally did well financially but gathered less than half the usual toys.
“We’ve also lost the Teddy Bear Toss completely, and most importantly our Pan Pacific Christmas Wish Breakfast 2020 is gone,” Bayliss noted. “That brings in 20 tonnes of toys in one day, it’s probably the biggest toy drive of its kind.”
But even though donations are down, recipient families are up as many struggle through an unusually difficult year, while regular recipients find themselves in even tougher straits than usual this Christmas.
“There’s a pent up demand, there’s sort of a sense that we need to have a normal Christmas, or at least something to celebrate,” Bayliss said. “There’s also the fear from our volunteers, seasonal staff, our client base… how can we do this in a COVID-safe manner.”
While Bayliss said the organization has invested in safety training, barriers, masks and extra sanitization, he said it makes it hard when they typically rely on numbers to package, ship out and distribute toys and other goods.
“I hope that people can get out and get the help they need because we know… there’s a sense of desperation this year. We’ve been getting the calls,” he said.
But while many events have been cancelled, Bayliss said he’s encourage by all of the people who have stepped up to help. The bureau is hosting a Christmas Toy Drop Drive-Thru at the Pacific National Exhibition (PNE) on Thursday and Friday (Nov. 12-13). Anyone can make a monetary donation via tap or donate a new, unwrapped toy. To reserve a time, visit: ticketleader.ca/events/detail/christmas-toy-drop.
Bayliss said that while any monetary help and all toys are appreciated, teens often get left out during the holidays. Teens make up 12 per cent of the bureau’s recipients each year but toys for them make up only three per cent of what’s donated.
“We can make a lot of that up with gift cards but it’s not the same,” he said. “Everybody always wants to buy a stuffed animal… but teen toys are always important.”
If you’re not sure what to get, Bayliss said to “look at the STEM toys, the science, tech, engineering and mathematic toys.” Electronics, he noted, are always good, too, and items like blowdryers and curling irons.
Anyone wanting to donate can visit lmcb.ca for more information.
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