Christmas might be the most wonderful time of the year for many, but not wonderful for some.
For many years Surrey residents going through tough times have depended on Surrey Christmas Bureau for help during the holidays, and a huge hub is set up in Whalley for another season.
This year the charitable organization’s “Toy Depot” is located in the former Canadian Tire building (13665 102 Ave.), thanks to a donation of retail space by Anthem Properties, developers of the adjacent Georgetown project.
“Surrey’s North Pole” is where hundreds of volunteer elves, including students and employees of local companies, work to decorate and fill shelves with toys for families in need, and give out grocery vouchers.
Starting Tuesday (Nov. 14) the depot site is open to receive toy and cash donations Monday to Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Families can register for help now until Dec. 2 online (christmasbureau.com), in person, or call 604-581-9623 to get the process started.
Last year nearly 2,000 Surrey low-income families, including 4,500 children, visited the Toy Depot (at another site in Whalley) and were given nearly $195,000 in grocery vouchers, a record amount.
“I have no doubt we’re going to go over the $200,000 mark this year,” said Lisa Werring, executive director of the Christmas Bureau.
“The vouchers are huge for a lot of these families,” she added. “Everybody knows the price of groceries are through the roof, and it’s just so important to have those holiday meals.”
Our online registration system for clients is now open! Please visit our website for full instructions including a handy new Frequently Asked Questions section. pic.twitter.com/cPWaY7vlAX— Christmas Bureau (@SurreyChristmas) October 18, 2023
For families in need, online registration started in mid-October, and Nov. 21 is the first day for pick-ups from the Toy Depot.
“Over 1,000 families have applied already,” Werring reported. “This year the numbers are going to be through the roof here because of the demand we’re seeing. I started getting calls from parents that were worried back in July. They were already thinking about Christmas and about what they were gonna do.”
Volunteers are busy setting up the toy shop, designed with dignity in mind.
“We’ll decorate to make it look pretty,” Werring said, “because it’s supposed to feel like you walked into a Toys R Us store, you know, and you’re able to shop like everybody else does at Christmas time. That’s what we shoot for, and we have a lot of room to maneuver in this building, that’s for sure.”
The online registration system, started during COVID, has been valuable for everyone.
“Back in the olden days,” Werring explained, “we used to have folks lining up outside in the pouring rain. My first year, I came to work on my first day, first time registration opened. I was nervous and I came to work at 7:30 in the morning and there was over 100 people standing in the pouring rain in the dark, waiting to register.
“A lot of them had little children with them, you know, and that’s how committed they were to making sure their kids had toys for Christmas,” she added. “For a long time we wanted to be able to do something online, and it was the pandemic that forced us to take that leap. That genie is out of the bottle, there’s no putting it back in. Clients love it, and they can still walk in to register too, if technology is an issue for them.”
It’s important to note that only Surrey families are helped by Surrey Christmas Bureau.
“We do check addresses,” Werring underlined. “That’s part of the registration process, making sure that families reside in Surrey, that they have children that reside with them under the age of 18 and that they are low-income.
“It’s not easy for people to ask for help,” she added. “We try and make the processes as painless as possible, but we do have a responsibility to make sure that the assistance is reaching the families that need it most.”
Those wanting to sponsor a family should call the Christmas Bureau’s Adopt a Family department, 604-585-9670.
When Ryley was 5 she said it had to be a FUNraiser because toys are fun. Nine years later, the kids have collected over $8500 & 16 boxes of toys. But the best is going to the Christmas Bureau & putting toys on the shelves. Can't make the lunch - drop toys off at the DSBIA office. pic.twitter.com/xUGjR9i8PO— Bonnie Burnside (@Bonnie_Burnside) November 7, 2023
‘FUNRAISER’ LUNCH NOV. 19
Surrey Christmas Bureau will benefit from a spaghetti-lunch “funraiser” Sunday, Nov. 19 at Bozzini’s restaurant, noon to 2 p.m. at 13655 104 Ave.
Some “Juice Box Heroes & Christmas Elves” host the annual event, where lunch is $15. Bring an unwrapped toy or two, too.
“It’s a whole group of young kids who’ve become very philanthropic,” said Lisa Werring, Surrey Christmas Bureau.
“Their parents and their Aunt Bonnie have been wonderful in teaching them the value of giving back, so they’re very committed to the Christmas Bureau. They like to come in and help make Christmas stockings for the kids as well, a whole group of them, cousins and friends, very sweet.”
Elsewhere, Surrey Pride Society is hosting a drive for the Christmas Bureau until Dec. 15, has pledged $500 to the fund and will donate money raised at bingo nights including Nov. 17 at Royal Oak Restaurant. Look for info about “Operation Rainbow Rudolf” on facebook.com/SurreyPrideBC.