Remember the scene in It’s a Wonderful Life when Mary Bailey picks up the phone to call everyone she knows because George is in trouble? And then all of Bedford Falls rallies around him? Well, it was exactly like that this year when, literally minutes after sending out a “Joyce is panicking” email, we got a reply from Japan saying “I should be able to get a turkey to you by the 18th. Don’t panic.” Five minutes after that, a hamper stalwart emailed from London that she’d just posted us a cheque and sent out a call for contributions through her own email list. Within hours, 20 more turkeys were promised, and by the Thursday before the party, we knew this just might be the year we’d break 100 hampers.
Joyce shifted the focus of her panic. Would the party be so big people would trip all over each other, be frustrated, and never come back again? Obviously, we’d have to tighten up our systems.
We encouraged people to come at staggered times throughout the day and to let us know their rough arrival time. This paid off big time. First, it gave us a clearer picture of what time provisions were coming so we were able to more accurately figure out what our “runners” needed to buy in order to complete the hampers. (We ultimately ended up with just an extra 1- ½ kilos of coffee!) Second, when runners return from the last shopping trip of the day, we suddenly have lots of food that needs to be processed quickly. It was incredibly helpful to have enough hands on board at the end of the day this year. Our party now amasses thousands of pounds of food; it would have been backbreaking for a handful of people and two Salvation Army workers to haul it all to the truck!
To cut down the confusion for newcomers we introduced elf hats identifying a “Welcome Elf” (greeting people at the door and giving them a nametag), “Warehousing Elf” (supervising the bulk produce outside and carrying turkeys up the stairs), “Quality Control Elf” (making sure finished hampers were complete), “Bagging Supervisor Elf (looking after the bagging operations in the great room), “Hamper Trainer Elf” (presiding over the hamper packers at the dining room table) and “Recycling Elf”. Whenever a newbie asked “What do I do?” the answer was easy: “Ask an Elf.”
For once, the weather was perfect and our well-oiled machine churned out hampers. By 2:30 pm the finished hamper count was 83! We were blessed this year with record cash donations, so we were able to speed a runner out for more hampers. Amazingly enough, even with a 30% increase in donations this year, we managed to finish packing the hampers on time for the first time in years.
At 6:15 the Salvation Army workers arrived and we all gathered outside. Hampers stretched from the front porch, down the stairs, and along the stone walkway all the way to the street. The lawn on both sides of the walkway was wall-to-wall food.
Our amazing bagpiper Josh MacDonald started up his pipes and Joyce & Peter carried the first hamper to the truck. Then 20 or more workers formed a bucket brigade that stretched from the house to the street and we began hauling filled hampers down the hill. Even though hampers were moving very quickly down the line, we had such an enormous volume of food that it took at least 15 minutes to transfer the food from the house to the truck. That’s when the real impact of what we had collectively accomplished sunk in.
By now you must be dying to know the final count so we won’t torture you further. This year’s hamper tally was a stunning—ta da!—131 hampers. Yes, you read that right: beautiful, healthy Christmas dinners for 131 families. We fed an entire village. Four hampers went to needy families we knew personally and the remaining 127 went to the Salvation Army. We actually had so many hampers they wouldn’t all fit into the Sally Ann’s refrigerator truck, so party-goers with trucks, cars and mini-vans loaded up the extra 30 hampers and followed the big truck to the Salvation Army for distribution the next morning.
Needless to say, the Salvation Army was over-the-moon happy. When I talked to Major Mason the morning after the party, he told me they’re aiming for 1200 hampers this year. That means our fun little party is now providing over 10% of all their Christmas hampers.
Major Mason gave Joyce’s name to a reporter for the Oak Bay News, Victoria News & associated papers and they will be doing an article. There will also be a piece in the Times-Colonist, so look out for both. Joyce agreed to do these articles on condition they were about how to hold your own hamper party. Grania Litwin from the Times-Colonist was especially wonderful. She spent ages on Sunday observing and interviewing hamper partiers. Hopefully, other hamper parties will spring up elsewhere and our tradition will spread.
We could not possibly have accomplished what we achieved this year without the generous contributions we received from the Victoria College of Art, Costco, Galey’s Morning Fresh Eggs (Blenkinsop), Zeller’s, Thrifty Foods branches, Duncan Superstore, Country Grocer and Zeller’s.
Our hard working runners Catherine Regehr, Paul MacDonald, and Richard Butler and our equally hard working elves Lisa Paquin, Sarah, Jacob and James VanDam; Carole Klemm, Maryl McCay, Larry Rittenhouse, Janice LaCouvee, Keith Jenkins and Warehouse Elf Josh all did an awesome job. They passed on their hats to others, so if we missed someone please forgive us. It would be impossible to thank all of you enough for the hard work and care you all put into this year’s party. As Paul MacDonald pointed out, what distinguishes the hamper party from most other charitable enterprises is that 5% of the people don’t do 95% of the work!
A final note. Some of you contribute quite substantial sums and we couldn’t possibly feed so many people without you. In the spirit of the party, however, we single out only businesses and never individual contributors. Because of this, we were able to reassure a newcomer concerned about “value expectation” of donations that she needn’t be embarrassed—all contributions would disappear into an anonymously collected sea of goodies.
A well deserved Merry Christmas to you all. You are amazing and we thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Photos will follow but we know you all wanted to know the final tally pronto!
Joyce & Peter