Kelly Jane Hanvey still has a reminder of the Christmas when she feared she wouldn’t be able to give her two daughters presents under the tree or a Christmas dinner.
Unable to work following a serious car crash and having just separated from her husband, Hanvey sought help from the Salvation Army, which provides food hampers and toys to families in need with support from the Times Colonist Christmas Fund.
One of the donated toys for her daughters, Abigail and Lauren, ages four and three at the time, was a life-sized plush reindeer, which Hanvey told them was a gift from Rudolf. That smiling reindeer comes out every Christmas as a reminder never to take for granted the comforts they now have.
The 41-year-old Langford mom was so inspired by the generosity and caring shown to her when she was struggling, she’s been volunteering with the Salvation Army’s Christmas kettle campaign ever since. In October, she was hired by the Salvation Army’s Stan Hagen Centre for Families in Victoria, which she said “feels like coming home.”
Hanvey was in the passenger seat and her then 14-month-old and two-year-old daughters were in the back seat on Remembrance Day 2009 at 1:30 p.m. when a car driven by her ex-husband was T-boned by an impaired driver at Cook Street and Kiwanis Way.
Hanvey instinctively turned to shield her daughters from any debris in the back. The impact caused injuries to her pelvis, pelvic nerves and pubic bone, leaving her with nerve damage and incontinence, which for many years limited her job options. She was unable to go back to coaching field hockey, her career before she became a stay-at-home mom.
Hanvey still struggles with post-traumatic-stress disorder, triggered by ambulance sirens or the rumbling of a passing truck. She went back to school, studying legal administration at Camosun College. With little knowledge of the social assistance available to her, she found it hard to provide for her daughters.
“I really didn’t know how to juggle life,” said Hanvey, who emigrated to Victoria from the U.K. in 2002. “I was kind of in this no man’s land of being stuck.”
Just before Christmas 2011, with $20 left in her wallet, she turned to the Salvation Army for help and applied for disability assistance. She said the Christmas hamper and the ability to pick gifts in the toy store takes away the pressure parents feel seeing their kids’ expanding holiday wish lists.
“It’s not just receiving the hamper, it’s also receiving that gift for your heart and soul. For me, it was remarkable. I immediately volunteered the next day.”
Every Christmas since, Hanvey rings the bell outside local shops in hopes people will fill the kettle with donations to support the hamper program and other Salvation Army initiatives. Abigail and Lauren, now 13 and 12, are often by her side, as were her parents in 2018, when they visited from Worcestershire.
This year, the kettles have a tap-payment option, so people can donate $5 with a credit or debit card.
Hanvey recalls last year when her 10-week-old foster puppy, dressed in an elf costume and jingling with bells, accompanied her partner outside the Real Canadian Superstore in Langford. That kettle secured some of the highest donations in Greater Victoria that year, she said.
Through volunteering and now her work as regional kettle coordinator, Hanvey has a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the work that goes into making sure no family goes without over the holidays.
The financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic means some people are accessing the Christmas hamper program who never thought they would, Hanvey said.
“Especially with COVID, you cannot judge the person who walks in the door. There are all sorts of people from all different backgrounds of life.”
Hanvey said her parents raised her in the spirit of Mother Teresa’s motto: “A life not lived for others is not a life.”
She can see that in action at the Salvation Army and it’s embodied in her home in the form of that little reindeer.
HOW TO DONATE
The Times Colonist Christmas Fund, which supports the Salvation Army and other organizations, is aiming to raise $700,000 this year. On Thursday, the donation total inched a little closer, reaching $611,600.
There are several ways to donate:
Go to 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, payable to the Times Colonist Christmas Fund Society, to the Times Colonist Christmas Fund, 201-655 Tyee Road, Victoria V9A 6X5.
Use your credit card by phoning 250-995-4438 between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m., Monday through Friday. Outside those hours, messages will be accepted.