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Salvation Army toy ‘shop’ caters to families in need

In a basement warehouse on the edge of downtown Victoria, a local charity’s staff is working hard to make sure the city’s poorest kids feel like the luckiest on Christmas morning. “It’s pretty amazing when parents come to pick out the presents.
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Ruth Bartesko helps sort some of the thousands of toys destined for Victoria's less fortunate children as the Salvation Army ramps up for the holiday season. The organization is teaming up with the Times Colonist to take over distribution of the money raised in the Christmas Fund drive.

In a basement warehouse on the edge of downtown Victoria, a local charity’s staff is working hard to make sure the city’s poorest kids feel like the luckiest on Christmas morning.

“It’s pretty amazing when parents come to pick out the presents. They get very emotional when they realize how much they get to give their kids,” said Pat Humble at the Salvation Army Stan Hagen Centre for Families.

Each year, the organization collects thousands of toys from donors and toy drives that are sorted and displayed in a pop-up toy shop. Needy families book an appointment to “shop” and get to pick out three to five items for each of their children.

“We try to give that feeling of abundance,” Humble said. The organization also provides individuals and families with a hamper of fresh food for Christmas dinner.

This year, Humble is concerned that a growing demand could result in the organization running short.

“We’ve already had 700 applicants come in. This time last year, there were 200,” he said. “And there just seems to be more need this year in general, more people struggling. Other agencies are reporting the same thing.”

This year, the Salvation Army is partnering with the Times Colonist to take over distribution of the money raised in the newspaper’s Christmas Fund drive. That means they can expect up to 2,000 more people applying for hampers and gifts, in addition to the 1,500 they usually serve.

“We’re here to meet that need and with the city’s help, we’ll do it together, like we do every year,” said Humble, adding his compassion for struggling families not only comes from his work but from his own experience.

“When I was growing up, our toys and presents came from the Salvation Army. I found out later, and it makes it more fun to do this work here,” he said.

“We try to let people know it’s not their fault [if they can’t afford something like Christmas] and that there’s dignity in having a chance to take help and provide for your family.”

In the toy shop, Ruth Bartesko calls families to set up their gift shopping appointments.

“It’s neat to hear people get all excited to come,” Bartesko said. “One woman told me her rent was raised and she didn’t have money to go around for Christmas.”

The room of toys and gifts is organized by age and gender, with a middle table full of books, games and puzzles for boys and girls. There’s everything from baby clothes to science kits and Lego to Barbie.

“What we really need are gifts for teens. In my experience, these are the hardest to come by,” said Bartesko, who has worked in the shop for two years. She noted teens can be tough to shop for, and most toy drives garner items for younger kids. Popular items for teens include instruments, electronics and sports equipment. Clothing, jewelry and makeup kits for girls are often the first to go.

This year, the family of a model car collector who passed away donated more than 150 new kits — a coup for the teen table.

Donations for the Salvation Army toy and gift room can be dropped off at the Stan Hagen Center for Families at 2695 Quadra St.

You can also support the Salvation Army’s Christmas help efforts, including the meal hampers, by donating to the Times Colonist Christmas Fund.

spetrescu@timescolonist.com

How to donate

It's quick and easy to donate online

Visit the Canada Helps website to make your donation online

http://www.canadahelps.org/CharityProfilePage.aspx?charityID=s63791

Phone: 250-995-4438

By mail or in person: 2621 Douglas St., Victoria, B.C. V8T 4M2

- See more at: http://www.timescolonist.com/donate-to-the-christmas-fund-and-help-those-in-need-1.20479#sthash.3Vu6g8Zx.dpuf

Visit the Canada Helps website to make your donation online

http://www.canadahelps.org/CharityProfilePage.aspx?charityID=s63791

Phone: 250-995-4438

By mail or in person: 2621 Douglas St., Victoria, B.C. V8T 4M2

Make cheques payable to "Times Colonist Christms Fund"