Plenty of elves were buzzing around, clip-boards in hand, and things were running like a well-oiled machine for Surrey Christmas Bureau’s first day of registration on Nov. 9.
A steady stream of families flowed through the door in Newton, this year based out of the former Fraser Region Aboriginal Friendship Centre at 6878 King George Blvd.
Greeting residents as they arrived that first day were two longtime volunteers: Fred Minty and Bev Snook.
This is year 15 for Snook.
“What keeps me coming back is the kids, and the looks on their faces – and their parents’ faces – when they get some nice things for Christmas,” she said.
Minty has to agree.
“It’s a wonderful thing to see the satisfaction, or the happiness, of the children,” he said. “They check out after they get all these goodies in a big bag and they come to the front door and want to know what it costs. I have the pleasure of saying, not one cent.”
The charity welcomed new leader Lisa Werring this year.
Standing in the lobby amid families in need, and just some of the 150 volunteers who will make Christmas happen for so many, Werring smiled.
“It’s really like a pop-up Toys R Us,” she mused.
Like every year, people lined up before the doors opened that first day.
About 35 people were waiting by 9 a.m.
“It’s been very steady all day,” she said around lunchtime.
Werring said one woman stood outside the doors at 3 p.m. Wednesday afternoon, the day before registration began, ready to camp out.
“They’re really worried about Christmas and they’re really worried about being able to provide for their children at Christmas. If you’re willing to camp out overnight to ensure you get in to register, it’s pretty serious. Luckily, we were able to talk to this woman and send her home nice and toasty, she’s been registered. She was committed.”
Werring urged others not to show up before they open at 9 a.m.
“We’re open for registration six days a week, so there’s plenty of time. We don’t want people freezing and standing in the cold.”
While plenty of clients have already arrived, the toys have yet to make their way through the doors.
“We are going to be in dire need,” said Werring. “The shelves are bare right now.”
Every firehall in Surrey will be accepting donations, she said, and donations can of course be dropped off at the depot itself. Toys will be stored and sorted, and shelves will be stocked, all under the one roof.
“We definitely would like to see some things coming in sooner than later, it’s always a bit of a crunch. And the older kids, too,” she said.
Gifts for teenagers are always a challenge at the bureau.
“It takes a bit of ingenuity and thinking. Sports equipment is great… leisure passes for the rec centres, for girls, blow dryers, straighteners, hair appliances, all of those things. For boys, shavers and things like that, too. And of course, gift cards so they can buy clothes,” she laughed. “That’s what my kids always wanted.”
The bureau is also in need of financial support, to help buy grocery gift cards.
“Money goes a long way and it also helps us fill the gaps for age groups on our shelves,” she said.
Like every year, the number of people in need of holiday help at the bureau is expected to rise.
“As Surrey grows, the need grows with it,” said Werring.
“We’ve seen in the last year or so a sharp up-tick in the number of refugees settling in Surrey and looking for services and support.”
They’re expecting another large increase in refugee clients again this year, said Werring.
“So that’s a new base that will impact us as well.”
Last Christmas, the bureau helped just under 2,000 families, which included more than 4,00 children.
“Think about the impact it has on a child if they don’t have a Christmas. If it was 4,000 kids who didn’t have a Christmas?
“It’s astonishing to think that could happen and we’re happy to be in a position to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
One of Werring’s longterm goals for the operation is to find a permanent home, like the Lower Mainland Christmas Bureau has.
“That would be ideal,” she said. “And to be able to ramp up capacity so we can meet the need.
“No family is alone. We’re here. We’re friends. And we’re going to help.”
The site will be open for registration from Monday to Saturday, 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., ending Dec. 2.
Anyone wishing to volunteer can call 604-581-9623.
More information on the charity can be found at christmasbureau.com.