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London, Ont. Salvation Army switches up Christmas Hamper format

Nancy Kerr, executive director at Salvation Army London, says that this new style allows more dignity and choice in the process. Ben Harrietha/980 CFPL

The Salvation Army in London, Ont. is collecting new toys and clothing for families in need as part its annual Christmas Hamper program, but this year, families will get their holiday gifts in a slightly different way.

In previous years, families would register for the assistance program, including the ages of their children and preferences, and then receive a bag of toys picked by volunteers.

Now, the Salvation Army has launched what it’s calling a “Toy Shop,” where families will be able to go through the donated items and pick what they want for their children.

“We let them choose a large toy, and we say to $30 value and up, and then they can choose one medium or small,” says Nancy Kerr, the executive director at Salvation Army London.

“We’re giving them a maximum of 15 minutes. [Families] will come in, a ‘shopping elf’ will greet them, they make their selections. And then when they’re done, the shopping elf will get the next person and hopefully that’ll all go smoothly.”
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Kerr added that the charity organization always wanted to be able to give families the chance to pick the toys they got. This year was the year it “took the leap and made it happen.”

The new format also allows the charity to put out more items that it typically would be able to.

“Before, if we got something like skates, we can’t put skates in the bag because we don’t know what size skates the kids wear. Now, they can be on the table and the parent can choose it, which is great because I’m sure there’s many kids who would love to get a pair of skates.”

Making it happen this year is a team of about 25 volunteers, who have been setting up the donations and toy shop in the back of the Western Fair District Agriplex since Wednesday.

In previous years, there had been up to 1,500 volunteers helping set up the hampers.

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Cheryl Leyes, who’s been volunteering for the Christmas Hamper Program for 20 years, says the small group can get things done quicker than a large group of people.

“You’ve got new groups coming in and they have to be trained… It’s better if we have the same people as many days as possible.”

Over 4,300 families have registered for the Christmas Hamper program, with close to 15,000 individuals predicted to be helped by the program.

Currently, the greatest area of need is the nine-to-12 age range. Leyes said that the shortage was because of two things; the difficulty of finding gifts and the price.

“You can’t pick up $10 and $5 items, or even $20 items as easily as you can for three to eight. When you get into nine to 12, you start getting into the Lego and into the different craft sets that are more expensive.”

Leyes does say that sports items, like basketballs or soccer balls, are great for that age.

Kerr says that about 6,700 bags of toys were given away last year. She says the generosity of Londoners is “overwhelming” but the amount of need in the city can be sad to see.

“You realize, well, there’s a lot of toys, but a lot of toys represents a lot of need,” she says. “It’s certainly hard times for a lot of people and especially at Christmas. You want to have a nice meal with your family. You want to have gifts under the tree for your kids. But you still got bills to pay. How do you do both?”

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She says the generosity of Londoners, with events like the Teddy Bear Toss, is so important to making sure families in need are able to put gifts under the tree.

980 CFPL, along with its sister stations FM96, Fresh Radio, and Country 104, will be collecting toys, cash, and gift cards Thursday, Dec. 14 in a “Drive-Thru Toy Drive” at the Delta Armouries in downtown London until 6 p.m.

All donations go towards the Christmas Hamper Program.

Donations can also be dropped off at the Salvation Army Centre of Hope at 281 Wellington St. and the London Fire Department’s Station No. 1 on Horton Street, both of which are 24/7 donation spots.

Westmount Shopping Centre, CF Masonville Place and White Oaks Mall will be hosting a drop-off location until Dec. 24.

The Agriplex is also open to donations on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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