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Jack Knox: On a dark day, Christmas Fund donors shine light

Last year, with all but a handful of British Columbians still to be vaccinated, there was more fear. This year, that has given way to weariness.
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Time Colonist Christmas fund donations so far.

It was the winter solstice ­Tuesday, the darkest day of the year.

Sunrise was at 8 a.m., while sunset came at 1:30, which was when Dr. Bonnie, Adrian Dix and Mike Farnworth laid out the latest COVID-19 restrictions. Nightclubs and gyms to close. No organized Christmas parties. Limits on pubs, restaurants, ­cinemas….

Sigh.

There are a couple of ways to look at this. Way one: It sucks that this is necessary. This is not the Christmas we had envisioned, not after last spring when the province unveiled a four-stage restart plan that was supposed to culminate with us celebrating the holidays in the manner the good Lord intended — playing the slots in a crowded casino. Damn Delta. Damn Omicron.

Second way to look at it: It could be, and was, worse. In 2020, Christmas was limited to your household only, or to a one- or two-person bubble if you lived alone. Grandchildren were cut off from grandparents. Care homes were sealed off. No socializing with friends at restaurants (or churches). No Butchart Gardens lights, no Santa Claus parade, no truck parade….

Last year, with all but a handful of British Columbians still to be vaccinated, there was more fear. This year, that has given way to weariness. It’s dark. It’s cold. We don’t know how long this movie will last.

The thing is, even in the darkness — particularly in the darkness — most people have done a pretty good job of helping each other along.

This has been reflected by the Times Colonist Christmas Fund.

In a typical year, the ­newspaper charity will raise $300,000. When it hit a record $357,000 in 2019, that seemed as high as it would ever go, particularly after COVID chased us all under our beds a couple of months later. Being a pessimist, I expected a substantial drop last Christmas. Instead, 2020 was off the charts. Readers donated an astounding $1.27 million to be distributed among the less fortunate.

That total won’t be realized this year, but by any other yardstick, the 2021 fund has been a stunning success. The total had reached $558,000 by Tuesday, and history indicates it will keep on climbing. That’s a lot of money to donate to people you’ve never even met.

That leads to another point. In the olden days, the Times Colonist would, after co-ordinating its recipient lists with those of other Christmas charities, deliver cheques or food cards straight into the hands of people in need.

That practice changed several years ago, when the newspaper concluded that while it was good at collecting donations, it wasn’t as good as the Salvation Army and the Mustard Seed Street Church at figuring out which people were most in need of help.

Those organizations can make a dollar stretch further, too. So, the TC started funneling the money through them and, for the past couple of years, a score of similar groups.

That makes sense, but there is a downside. When you don’t meet people in person, you conjure up an idea of what they look like.

When I first made deliveries for the Christmas Fund, I expected doors to be opened by the dysfunctional and the dope-addled, human train wrecks who needed me, saint that I am, to help them back on the rails.

Here’s who really opened the door: a 10-year-old boy and his three younger siblings, trying not to awaken a mother who had just come off night shift as a hospital cleaner.

There was a mom with a child in a wheelchair. A dad who had suffered a stroke. Another guy who looked disconcertingly like me. And so on. The good thing about in-person deliveries is that they were a reality check.

Also reality: This might not be the Christmas we had hoped to see, but it’s a lot better than where we were a year ago.

And even if the road ahead is uncertain, at least we know that from here on, day by day, it will see a little more light as Islanders help each other along.

HOW TO DONATE

• Go to our fundraising page at timescolonist.com/donate. That takes you to the Canada Helps website, which is open 24 hours a day and provides an immediate tax receipt.

• Mail a cheque to Times ­Colonist Christmas Fund, 201‑655 Tyee Road, Victoria, B.C. V9A 6X5.

• Use your credit card by phoning 250-995-4438 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday.