Pop-up toy store helps families in need put gifts under Christmas tree

Santa Claus will still be ­coming to town for families in need, thanks to the Salvation Army’s annual toy store.

For the past 40 years, the charity has distributed an annual Christmas hamper that helps families in need to put food on the table and toys or new clothes under the tree.

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Pat Humble, executive ­director of the Salvation Army Stan Hagen Centre for Families, said the Salvation Army hands out 1,500 to 2,000 hampers every year, and the need has grown with the impact of the pandemic. “With COVID-19, families are now more than ever looking forward to the hampers this ­Christmas.”

Since it began accepting online applications for hampers, the charity has received 400, compared with 250 to 300 by this point in a typical holiday season.

A highlight for most ­hamper recipients with children is the ability to “shop” for age-­appropriate toys.

Every holiday season, the basement of the Stan Hagen Centre on Quadra Street is transformed into a pop-up toy store, with colourful toys stacked high on tables.

Parents can choose from among toys, books, games, ­puzzles and science kits based on their children’s interests and ages.

While the Salvation Army accepts used items for its thrift stores, it asks donors to donate only new items for the ­Christmas toy store.

“Christmas time is special and we want to make it special for children by gifting them a new toy, not a hand-me-down,” said Humble.

“I know that from personal experience, as I still remember receiving toys at Christmas from the Salvation Army when I was a child.”

The way parents shop will be a little different this year. Extra cleaning protocols are in place, and instead of three or four families shopping at the same time, as in past years, only one family at a time will be allowed in the room.

While toys are always ­welcome, donors are encouraged to consider donating gift cards so that teens — the most difficult age group to buy for — can be included in the gift giving.

Humble said the electronic components and games that teens often want are costly, and choosing clothing is difficult because of differences in taste, style and size. “Although warm clothes such as hoodies are always welcome,” he said.

Patricia Mamic, director of public and government affairs for the B.C. division of the Salvation Army, said this is a time of year when many children are hoping to receive new toys, but the reality is that one in five ­children in British Columbia under 18 are living in poverty and will be fortunate to even receive a wholesome traditional meal.

The Times Colonist Christmas Fund supports the work of the Salvation Army.

Money collected by the fund, which has raised $77,500 so far this year, is distributed among local agencies, including the Salvation Army, which works with people in need throughout the year. The agencies handle the ­distribution of hampers and gift certificates paid for with Christmas Fund donations.

parrais@timescolonist.com

HOW 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.

Or, if you prefer, mail a cheque, payable to the Times Colonist Christmas Fund Society, to the Times Colonist Christmas Fund, 201-655 Tyee Road, ­Victoria V9A 6X5.

Or 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.

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