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YEG Holiday Helpers collecting donations to make Christmas brighter for kids

Click to play video: 'YEG Holiday Helpers aim to spread Christmas cheer' YEG Holiday Helpers aim to spread Christmas cheer
WATCH ABOVE: A local group of volunteers is collecting donations to make stocking stuffers for as many as 1,000 children from families struggling to make ends meet over the holidays. Sarah Ryan reports – Dec 13, 2020

A group of local volunteers has banded together for the second holiday since the pandemic started, opening their hearts, and their wallets, for people in need.

The YEG Holiday Helpers, as they’ve dubbed themselves, is an initiative started by an Edmonton mother, Sherry Cassidy-Oleksyn.

Read more: Coronavirus: Edmonton company turning construction waste into cash as charities struggle

For Easter, her family set out to help 10 other families who were struggling during the pandemic.

“That ended up being 400 plus backpacks for about 120 families and 80 Easter dinner hampers, because we had so much support and there is a huge need,” Cassidy-Oleksyn explained.

It was such a success, she and her friends decided to rally once again — this time for Christmas.

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“We had a goal of 500 stockings for kids in Edmonton, as well as providing every family with a Christmas breakfast hamper,” she explained.

Click to play video: 'COVID-19 putting a strain on Christmas charity drives in Edmonton' COVID-19 putting a strain on Christmas charity drives in Edmonton
COVID-19 putting a strain on Christmas charity drives in Edmonton – Dec 3, 2020

They say their initiative is a way for families to help other families and to get the kids involved in brightening someone’s holidays.

“How can we help where there’s no help?”

To collect donations, they reached out to local businesses to see if they would serve as hubs. All nine PrimeTime Donair & Poutine restaurants jumped on board.

“We looked at it, we thought this was absolutely great. We wanted to get behind it. It’s exactly the kind of project that we support and what better way than to allow these bins into our restaurants so people can donate right across the city,” explained PrimeTime’s founder Adil Asim.

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Read more: Alberta to match $2M in donations for charities’ COVID-19 response

Until Dec. 15, donations are being collected at other businesses too, a full list is available on the YEG Holiday Helpers Facebook page.

Asim said it’s been humbling seeing the generosity of customers.

“The response has been great. We’ve already filled up multiple bins at a few of the locations.”

The most needed items right now are stocking stuffers: small toys or trinkets as well as child hygiene items, snack and Christmas treats. The group also collects Christmas-themed cereal.

“With the amount of requests that are coming in, we know that we’re going to be doing closer to 750, upwards of 1,000 stockings,” she explained.

“A lot of people that are donating, they don’t have a lot. So they’re going through their house to find unused, brand new trinkets, some hygiene, bathroom items.”

Click to play video: 'Some charities struggling during COVID-19 pandemic' Some charities struggling during COVID-19 pandemic
Some charities struggling during COVID-19 pandemic – Oct 24, 2020

Some of the families who have asked for stockings are offering to help by donating their time. They’re assembling games for kids and writing Christmas cards.

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Cassidy-Oleksyn said the messages that she’s been receiving from families tug at the heartstrings.

“We have a family where the dad has passed away very recently. We have other families where both parents are out of work and they have a child who is sick.”

The YEG Holiday Helpers group doesn’t have any formal eligibility requirements, either. They’ve chosen instead to rely on the honour system.

“With everything going on with COVID, families that might look like they’re doing fine might be the ones that are struggling the most. So we’re just saying yes to everybody up until we don’t have the donations to continue saying yes.”

Read more: Christmas Bureau of Edmonton at less than 20% of fundraising goal

For Cassidy Oleksyn, the cause is a personal one.

“I was a low income parent for quite a few years and I had to get help many Christmases and throughout the year from different organizations,” she explained.

In addition to donations, volunteer drivers are also needed to help make deliveries.

Requests for help are still being accepted through the YEG Holiday Helpers Facebook page.

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