Local woman wrapped up in a good cause at South Surrey mall

SOUTH SURREY — It’s easy to feel a bit jaded about this whole Christmas thing.

There’s the onslaught of advertisements posing as feel-good carols and the glut of cruddy yuletide movies (Christmas with the Kranks, Deck The Halls – choose your poison) that pollute our screens from Halloween onward.

Then there’s the rampant consumerism that compels already-overspent saps to buy this year’s i-whatever when last year’s i-whatever still does the trick.You get the drift.

But every so often, you encounter someone who not only embodies the true spirit of the season, but humbles you – really humbles you – in the process.

Janet Jans is one such person.

In 1997, Jans lost her 52-year-old brother, Russell Swanky, to cancer.

"He was healthy all his life, strong as can be, 6′ 2", blond, blue eyes," she said."He graduated from college and wanted to be a marine. He took his training in the Nevada desert; that’s where the atomic bomb was tested. Most everyone in his troop has since died of cancer."

One other thing.

"The cancer that my brother died of can be cured now."

It’s that last bit, as bittersweet as it may be, that makes what Jans does each Christmas season for the past decade so incredibly important.

Jans wraps gifts at Semiahmoo Shopping Centre, in a booth located in the centre of the walkway between Dollarama and The Source.

Like Eminem, she’s a heck of a (w)rapper – fast, efficient, enthusiastic and capable of drawing a crowd.

But Jans doesn’t wrap to make a few spare bucks.

Indeed, neither the mall nor Jans nor any of the other wrappers at the booth make a single penny from their efforts.Instead, they do it for the Canadian Cancer Society’s B.C. branch.

The idea was hatched way back in 2004, with a conversation between Jans and Jeri Cox, the mall’s marketing director.

Gift wrapping to benefit cancer research?

For a woman who’d volunteered for much of her life, including a stint with a bingo charity in Ottawa for a new children’s hospital ("We had politician’s wives coming by in their chauffeur-driven limousines and even ladies of the night"), this was a slam-dunk.

Ten years later, Jans not only continues to work the ribbon and the scissors, but she also co-ordinates an army of 93 other, equally bighearted, gift-wrapping volunteers.

Some are teachers, some are realtors, some are doctors, some are moms.

And the generosity doesn’t end there. Jans credits the mall for providing nocharge booth space. She talks of kind shop owners such as the footwear retailer down the hall who offers up shoe boxes as gift boxes, the firemen who bring in gifts for wrapping and "outside" volunteers like her husband, who provides courier service.

And then there’s "Candyman."

"Several times each year, this fellow would come in and give each of the girls one candy and say, ‘You’re not sweet enough.’ We called him Candyman. We never knew his real name. We eventually lost him to cancer."

Three or four of the volunteers have been lost to cancer, she added.

"One lady lost her leg but wanted to come in and wrap anyway, in her wheelchair."

And now, in the tenth year of the program, Jans and company have hit a remarkable milestone.

Just this past weekend, as some unnamed customer handed their gift over the counter, they reached the $100,000 mark in money raised.

It’s no trivial figure in anyone’s books, and a testament to the selfless work these friends and colleagues do.

So if at some point this season you find yourself crunched for time, head on over to see the good folks at Semiahmoo Shopping Centre’s gift-wrapping booth. Bring along 20 bucks and you’ll even get a tax receipt.

Goble@shaw.ca

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