North

Yukon's hamper program hits record-high donations as COVID-19 effects drive up demand

The Whitehorse Firefighters Charitable Society says it's reaching more people in more communities this year.

The Whitehorse Firefighters Charitable Society says it's reaching more people in more communities this year

Firefighters Jeremy Beebe, left, and vice-president of the Whitehorse Firefighters Charitable Society Chris Gerrior on elf duty. (Whitehorse Firefighters Charitable Society)

Organizers of the annual Share the Spirit campaign in Yukon say donations are at an all time high this year.

Lead organizer Nicholas O'Carroll said 453 families are receiving Christmas hampers — more than 100 over last year's total.

Those families include 933 children receiving gifts, over 200 more than last year, said O'Carroll.

Volunteers are now in the midst of delivering those hampers in Whitehorse and 10 other communities across the territory. That's also an all-time high, he said.

"It's the kindness of the Yukon never ceases to amaze," he said.

O'Carroll said the hampers include all the fixings for a Christmas dinner plus presents for the children.

Nicholas O'Carroll, second from left, with firefighter colleagues at the kick-off for the 2019 toy drive in Whitehorse. (Dave Croft/CBC)

He said requests for assistance vary between communities. But O'Carroll said they were up significantly in Whitehorse this year.

"I think that's definitely reflective of people [who] have been suffering in the tourism industry and service industry. And it's taking its toll. We've definitely seen it," he said.

Less volunteers due to COVID-19 restrictions

O'Carroll said there were difficulties this year. The volunteer bubble was not large enough to wrap all of the gifts. This year had fewer volunteers than usual, he said, not from lack of people willing to step up, but because of COVID-19 restrictions.

"This is an extremely difficult year with a lot of problems. And … we're still committed to doing this as best we can and trying to keep that hope alive," O'Carroll said.

For the first time recipients included some families in Old Crow, he said.

Air North flew the gifts to the community, with RCMP officers waiting at the airport to collect the presents and later deliver them.

Old Crow RCMP officers Cpl. Pat Russell, above, and Cst. Maxime Lavertu delivered Christmas presents for Share the Spirit in their community. (Old Crow RCMP)

Cpl. Pat Russell said some people were initially concerned to see police arrive at their home. 

"You know, their concern turns to complete surprise and shock and awe and happiness. So, you know, we were happy to go and fulfill that," said Russell.

The RCMP have been helping with food distribution in Old Crow since the beginning of the pandemic, he said, by delivering grocery orders from the Old Crow Retail Co-op.

In recent weeks, he and colleague Cst. Maxime Lavertu, delivered packages of frozen salmon, chicken and ground bison meat that were flown into the community to every household there, Russell said.

O'Carroll said organizers personally delivered the news about the record donations this year to Donna and Ed Isaac on Sunday as a way of honouring them.

The Isaacs founded what was then called Adopt-a-Family in Whitehorse in the 1990s.

They later passed it on to a service club and eventually it was taken on by the firefighters who have ran it for the past five years.

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