Generous community support in the midst of a pandemic helped the Salvation Army in Swift Current to have a successful Christmas campaign.
The final amount was not determined yet when Swift Current Salvation Army corps officer Lieut. Renee Mailman spoke to the Prairie Post on Jan. 7, but it was already several thousand dollars higher than the amount raised during the 2019 Christmas campaign.
The 2020 Christmas campaign raised over $234,000. This amount includes over $52,000 from the Salvation Army kettles as well as mail-in and other donations.
“We are so incredibly pleased with how it went,” she said. “We know things were different, but people adapted so well. People stepped up in terms of donations and volunteering. It was absolutely fabulous.”
It was difficult to set a fundraising goal for this campaign due to the uncertainties caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Based on previous years, our entire Christmas campaign goal would have been $212,000,” she said. “So we absolutely exceeded what we were hoping for.”
The Christmas campaign is the Salvation Army's main fundraising event in the community and the money raised will support various activities during the year. Lieut. Mailman felt the success of the campaign during the pandemic, which has caused so much economic uncertainties, was an illustration of the generosity of residents in Swift Current and surrounding areas.
“We've consistently just been astounded by their generosity,” she mentioned. “This is just such a fabulous community. We had a number of people who had said we know that this year is a hard year, we want to help where we can.”
The Salvation Army also received donations from a number of organizations that could not hold their traditional staff party during the holiday season due to COVID-19 public health restrictions, and instead decided to make a donation to the Christmas campaign.
“So just people making that choice instead to say we want to help,” she said. “It's been phenomenal.”
The community support made it possible to hand out over 325 Christmas hampers, which included gifts for over 380 children.
The number of Christmas hampers provided during this campaign was higher than in 2019, when just under 300 food hampers were distributed.
“As much as we're so happy that we're able to help people in need, the reality is we don't like seeing that numbers go up,” she said. “Our goal is that we're able to assist people until they're able to not need us anymore. So to see the numbers go up I think is definitely a sign of the need that we're seeing in our community, which I would say is pandemic related. We know that has caused a hard year for all of us in different ways, but for some people very tangibly in terms of lost jobs and things like that. So there's definitely more of a need there.”
Community members helped to fulfil the Christmas wishes of many children. The campaign included a Miracle Room in the Swift Current Mall with a children’s wish tree, which was filled with tags indicating the gift requests from children living in and around the city.
“Every single one of those tags got taken, before actually the deadline,” she said. “We had a couple of days before the end of the deadline where all the tags were already taken.”
Canadian Tire Swift Current’s second annual Toys Days toy drive in partnership with the Salvation Army was also a big success and provided over 450 toys.
“So with that, we were even able to supplement more,” she said. “Each child was getting more than one item.”
There were additional precautions in place to keep kettle volunteers safe during the campaign and to adhere to COVID-19 public health requirements.
“We made sure to have hand sanitizer, wipes, masks and gloves available at every one of our kettle stands,” she noted. “And then we were able to make sure at each location that there was a lot of space available for people so they wouldn't feel crowded and were able to maintain the appropriate distance.”
The concerns over COVID-19 infection meant that some regular kettle volunteers were not comfortable doing a shift during the 2020 campaign.
“We absolutely understood that and we didn't want to pressure anyone into doing something that they were not comfortable with,” she emphasized. “We were still able to meet almost all of our kettle shifts. We had people who haven't volunteered before, and people who have volunteered before taking on more hours.”
Hutterite colonies in southwest Saskatchewan have for many years been strong supporters of the Swift Current food bank, and it was also the case during the 2020 Christmas campaign. The Salvation Army could not host the annual Hutterite appreciation luncheon due to the pandemic restrictions, but still acknowledged the contribution of the colonies towards the campaign.
“There was a specific day that was chosen for the Hutterites to come and drop off their donations, and then as they did that, we had created little packages for them with a thank you note and some other little items in it as our way of saying thank you for what they have done throughout the year,” she said.
Several changes were implemented during the 2020 Christmas campaign, for example there were no in-person applications for Christmas hampers.
“We think and the feedback has been that it went really well.” Lieut. Mailman said. “We were able to offer delivery as well as have people pick up their hampers this year in an effort to space things out, and that seemed to go really well.”
A significant change was the procedures followed by the food bank during the Christmas campaign. In previous years the food bank closed and people received a very large food hamper. For 2020 the food bank remained open for regular food distribution and the Christmas hamper was smaller.
“We think that worked much better,” she said. “We're not seeing the same kind of backlog for appointments that we had in the past after Christmas, because we've been able to meet people's needs for food up until just the week before Christmas. So as far as we can tell right now, it went well. We only have this one year to go by, so it's hard to say for sure, but most people were really receptive.”
These changes will be reviewed before any decisions are taken about whether it will remain in place in the future.
“Our plan is to debrief with our staff to see what our clients thought and get an idea of what worked well, what didn't work well, and what kind of changes we want to see in the future,” she said. “And then of course we have absolutely no idea what's coming December 2021. As far as we can tell now, there are changes we would like to keep, but this December we might not have the same restrictions. So things might look a little bit different this December.”