Okanagan families find relief from rising costs at Salvation Army toy room

West Kelowna's Salvation Army is inviting families in to get some Christmas cheer. Global News

A West Kelowna mom found cause to be grateful this holiday season, despite struggling to find balance between a limited income and rising costs.

The mother of four is on a disability income in the aftermath of a car crash. If it weren’t for the toy room at the Salvation Army and the West Kelowna food bank, the family’s Christmas may not have had much cheer.

“Inflation sucks right now,” she said, amid stacks of toys available to families with children younger than 18 years of age to choose gifts from. “(Costs) are really high. Almost unaffordable.”

During the holidays, the steady ring of bells heralds the organization’s collection of revenue to carry out its social mission, and helps it address the needs of the community.

This year, that mission means more to more families who are feeling the pinch caused by rising inflation.

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Christine Pomfrey, a Pathway of Hope caseworker with the Salvation Army, was at the toy shop Thursday as families came in to choose gifts for their little ones.

The organization puts months of planning into the shop that provides a gift for children and gift cards for teens.

Click to play video: 'Salvation Army in Kelowna begins Christmas hamper distribution extending pick-up hours due to unprecedented demand'
Salvation Army in Kelowna begins Christmas hamper distribution extending pick-up hours due to unprecedented demand

“We run it for four days,” she said. “We had to expand how many hours we do in a day because of the need.”

It used to run from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., but is staying open each night this year until 8 p.m.

The extended hours reflect the 35 to 40 per cent increase in need.

This year, they are serving more than 160 families and are supporting more than 400 children. Last year, there were 112 families and fewer than 300 children.

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“It’s insane,” Pomfrey said. “We’ve seen a lot of really horrible things happen this past year. The fires in August affected so many people and we have seen people lose their homes and they just are struggling.”

She said they’ve also seen people come from Ukraine, refugees who have nothing and they don’t know how to provide for their family, she said.

“And so those things as well as inflation and the cost of groceries have made it really difficult for families this year,” she said.

Click to play video: 'Food Bank Friday: Penticton Salvation Army'
Food Bank Friday: Penticton Salvation Army

People are finding that they are stuck between having to choose to pay for their rent or get presents for their children.

“We don’t want them to have that choice,” she said.

“So we’re here to support them and then we offer to be there for them during the year, too. It’s not just Christmas time. The Salvation Army is there for people all year long.”

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They’re currently almost out of toys for 10- to 12-year-old boys and the Lakview Heights church and the Salvation Army office on Okanagan Highway are still accepting donations.

Pomfrey hopes to see more people get the help they need, the way they need it. The impact of that help is something she sees every day she’s there.

“It’s overwhelming,” she said.

“You see the trepidation when they walk in the door almost sheepish and ashamed. Then they see their community loves them and came together and they leave with big bags of stuff and they feel so good and I am so blessed to be a part of this.”

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