New Brunswick

Christmas charities scramble to forge new fundraising paths

Many Christmas charities have had to come up with a new way of fundraising because of COVID-19.

Despite challenges of the pandemic, they're finding ways to make a difference

Chantal Senecal is the executive director of the Food Depot Alimentaire. She was nervous the non-profit organization wouldn't be able to run the Christmas Food Box program this year because of COVID-19 restrictions. But they were able to come up with a successful plan in the end. (Kate Letterick/CBC News )

It's a Christmas tradition in Moncton.

Every year, about 300 volunteers pitch in for the Christmas Food Box program. They spend a couple of days packing hundreds of food boxes for needy families and then others line up at the Moncton Coliseum Agrena to pick them up and deliver them.

But this year, COVID-19 changed everything.

"Unfortunately we didn't get the big event happening at the Coliseum," said Chantal Senecal, executive director of Food Depot Alimentaire.

"It's just a really great community initiative, so it was kind of sad to not be able to have that this year." 

Instead, the non-profit organization had to scramble to find another way to do things.

Most years hundreds of Christmas boxes were lined up at the Moncton Coliseum Agrena ready to be packed by volunteers. (Submitted/Chantal Senecal)

Senecal said a plan was made for the yellow phase, but then Zone 1, the Moncton region, changed to orange and it was back to the drawing board.

The organization worked with Worksafe NB and Public Health to come up with a new operational plan.

A small number of volunteers pre-packed the boxes. Their names were taken down for contact tracing and active screening was done, asking each person a list of COVID-19 questions.

There was also a need for a more in-depth plan, including specifics about details like sanitization, how it would be done, how often, what product would be used.

"So that was a huge challenge and something we've never experienced before," Senecal said.

WATCH | See inside this year's Christmas Food Box Program

Christmas charities challenged by COVID-19

2 years ago
Duration 2:58
Forced to scrap their traditional fundraisers, charities must find new ways to operate during pandemic.

It also means recipients will get just one food box instead of two, because perishable goods wouldn't last through the three-week process. But carrots, potatoes and apples will be sent to food banks, and will be available for people to pick up when they get their Christmas box, Senecal said.

One of the key ingredients in that box is a turkey, and every year, the Sue Stultz and Local 999 Moncton Firefighters Association put on a turkey drive to make sure each family gets one.

It's another tradition, with people stopping in at "Turkey Central" at the back of the St. George Boulevard fire station.

But here, too, organizers were forced to rethink their plans.

Christopher Jackson is a Moncton firefighter. He says plans for the annual Sue Stultz/Local 999 Moncton Firefighters Association turkey drive had to change. They came up with a turkey "drive-thru". (Kate Letterick/CBC News)

Instead, firefighter Christopher Jackson said, they came up with the "Turkey Drive-Thru," where people drove in and dropped off a turkey or a monetary donation. Others donated online.

"It was a scramble," Jackson said. "It was a worry at the start, we didn't know exactly what phase we'd be in or what sort of restrictions we'd have. But we knew we could work it out, and by putting it outdoors like this you ease off some of the restrictions" around masks and social distancing with people in their vehicles.

Jackson said people missed the social aspect of the turkey drive — donating in person, exchanging stories, and having their picture taken with a giant turkey.

But the new approach seemed to catch on quickly, he said.

Firefighters help direct traffic at the "turkey drive-thru" behind the fire station on St. George Blvd. in Moncton. (Pierre Fournier/CBC News )

"It's a special year and I think there's extra stress on families, some people have lost their employment and so forth," Jackson said.

There was some worry about whether as many people would come out, he said, but it's actually proving to have the opposite effect.

"People are more willing to help, it seems ... making sure those people that need the food at Christmas time are going to get it."

Senecal says 1,600 families have applied to receive a Christmas box.

The Food Depot Alimentaire pre-bought the food, and will begin fundraising to raise $80,000 on Monday.

"We know that many people are struggling or have not been back to work. Some people have been laid off," she said. "So we were a little bit concerned about that. But seeing the generosity all through the pandemic and continuing to come through the holidays is really encouraging."

This year the Christmas food boxes were pre-packed by a small group of volunteers, adhering to strict COVID regulations. (Submitted/The Food Depot Alimentaire)

The Christmas boxes will be distributed to local food banks and clients will be able to pick them up at their regular food bank appointment.

Arrangements have been made to have a small number of drivers to deliver to those with mobility issues, and to those who don't normally access food banks.

For that group, Senecal said, the holidays pose an added stress in trying to juggle putting food on the table and presents under the tree.

"They can get by the rest of the year, but at Christmas time you want to give your kids a good Christmas," Senecal said. "You're doing shopping, you want to give your kids gifts and that sometimes becomes a real struggle for a lot of families."

Even though planning this year's Christmas Food Box program has been a challenge, being able to help ease that struggle for families and individuals is worth it, Senecal said.