Two stuffed blue-jerseyed Surrey Eagles sit on a paper tray watching over K.C. Gilroy as she takes a short break in her tiny, cluttered office during a busy day at the Surrey Christmas Bureau (SCB).
It’s actually never not busy – not since several weeks ago, when Gilroy gratefully accepted the keys, courtesy of GWL Realty Advisors, to 8,000 square feet of space in which to make Christmas come true for about 1,800 Surrey families.
Gilroy, a chronic multi-tasker and self-described “big-picture person,” is heading up the SCB for the third year in a row.
“The big picture is that we can make this happen and it somehow unfolds,” she says modestly.
Distracted momentarily, she gives a sudden whoop when she realizes her trains have come in – cardboard trains from the printers that will be posted on the wall of the SCB’s Newton waiting room to honour sponsors and major donors.
Indeed, the entire charity is based on giving, whether it’s toys, money or time – and the latter includes 110 active volunteers.
On the receiving end are clients such as five-month-old Alisa. She and her mother Ashley MacMillan and father Wayne Terrel (left) are all first-time recipients at the SCB.
“We are very broke,” says MacMillan as the family waits in the lobby to register. “We barely get enough money to feed ourselves and get diapers and formula for (Alisa).”
Seven hundred of their monthly $1,000 social assistance cheque goes to rent, explains Ashley’s common-law husband Terrel, who has an artificial hip and knee.
Following the family’s registration, the couple will have to wait several days to hear whether they’ll get their toys directly at the Christmas bureau or will be sponsored in the Adopt-A-Family program – where donors take on the responsibility of playing Santa.
Adopt-A-Family donors contact the registered family, ask what they would like or need, shop for them, and deliver newly bought toys before Christmas.
Sponsoring families are also asked to provide holiday meals for adoptees.
“We want to try to get sponsored,” says MacMillan, although Terrel adds any kind of help is appreciated.
Gilroy says that just over 500 families have offered sponsorship, but the need is greater than ever. About 800 families are registered.
Also sorely needed are gifts for teens, such as gift cards. This year, SCB has increased the eligible child age to 16, adding about 50 extra households to the system.
The bulk of the SCB business, of course, is toys.
This year’s donations have come from individuals and families as well as toy drives such as the Sasquatch Four Wheelers Annual Toy Run (a good truckload); more than 420 toys from the Surrey Eagles’ Teddy Bear Toss; a donation of 40 bins from Surrey Traditional School; and $3,000 worth of toys bought new by The Money Tree.
The SCB also has a shelf lined with dozens of wooden toys donated by Guildford-area carver Bruno Schulz, and yesterday (Dec. 10), staff from Comfort Inn and Suites also dropped off a bus load of items from their Stuff the Bus campaign.
Gilroy says no contribution is too small.
“We get these cheques for $20 written in a very shaky, elderly hand, and you know that is as big to them as a corporate donation,” notes Gilroy (at left). “It’s maybe memories of themselves on assistance or hard times… people living through the ’30s and ’40s.”
“It’s a warm atmosphere and the people here are always really helpful,” says Patricia Moore, a single mom playing in the waiting room with Kaleb, a cooing eight-month-old in a stroller.
“And they always treat you with respect. They don’t look down on you.”
This is her fifth year as a client at the SCB.
Moore’s 10-year-old son Griffin, a boy obsessed with Lego and, separately, peanut butter, has been getting what he’s wanted for Christmas for each of those five years.
“He’s been very fortunate, whether we get sponsored or deal with the bureau itself. He always gets really cool Legos and he’s always really happy.”
Moore says she makes sure to tell her son where the gifts came from.
Donations to the Surrey Christmas Bureau continue to be accepted at any time. The Surrey Christmas Bureau is located at 7404 King George Blvd., in the building south of Boston Pizza. The registration deadline has been tentatively pushed forward to mid-December, but not waiting until the last minute is strongly recommended. For more information, call 604-581-9623, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit http://christmasbureau.com/