Friendly Neighbours’ Christmas list helps hundreds through the holiday

Published on December 15, 2009
Rachelle and Eric Wood took over coordinating the Friendly Neighbours organization in 1991, helping to spread holiday cheer to families suffering from financial burdens. A.Thompson

BY ASHLEY THOMPSON

Kings County Register

Kings County’s own Mr. and Mrs. Claus, Eric and Rachelle Wood, are busy gathering toys for needy families from Coldbrook to Kingston to open Christmas morning.

Friendly Neighbours uses funds raised by the local Christmas Mommies and Daddies Telethon to collect toys, games, books, school supplies, toothbrushes, toothpaste, homemade mittens, clothes, diapers and food; all to fill Christmas hampers for families in need.

The telethon, which aired Nov. 29, “raised $14,000; plus there’s other donations still coming in at the banks in the Valley from Middleton to Coldbrook,” says Eric. “How much we get we never know. But, what we do know is, every year, what is pledged at the telethon, we always get more – never less.”

Rachelle says the money raised by the telethon helps cover the group’s grocery bill, which ranges from $13,000 to $15,000, for the 23 items included in each food hamper assembled for families on the Friendly Neighbours’ Christmas list. “Last year, we did 210 hampers. We’ve ordered food for 250 families this year. If we get more applications, we’ll order more food.”

While they suspect they will receive at least 225 applications for food hampers and toy baskets this year, if too much food is ordered, they will send the extra to food banks in Kingston, Berwick and Middleton.

Unlike Santa, Friendly Neighbours volunteers lack the magical manpower that makes toys materialize in a matter of minutes. While their food bill is covered by donations made to Christmas Mommies and Daddies, gathering toys is a time-consuming process. “We shop all year round. When things come on sale, we buy them then because that’s the best you’re gonna get,” says Eric.

Friendly Neighbours receives a portion of the money donated to the Salvation Army by the provincial Christmas Daddies Telethon. “The Salvation Army does not cover the area we cover from Coldbrook to Kingston so, what the Salvation Army in Kentville has been doing for the last three or four years, is giving us some of that money to help us buy gifts for the kids.”

He explained, while several individuals donate time, money, toys, hand-knit clothes and delivery services to the Friendly Neighbours’ cause at Christmas; many others wish to remain anonymous. “We have a woman that brought in toys for 120 children. Her and her husband, they don’t have any children so, they just buy stuff year round and they’ll come in just before Christmas.”

He fondly remembers the day when the Friendly Neighbours opened their door and got a helping hand from a familiar face. “There are some pretty neat things that happen. Quite a few years ago, there was this family that needed help, so we helped them. The next year, the father showed up at our door with six turkeys,” says Eric.

Christmas hamper application forms, available at local food banks and grocery stores, ask how many children a family has, the age and sex of each child and what size clothes they wear. Volunteers spend the majority of their time sorting, counting and organizing toys prior to packing day to ensure everyone on Friendly Neighbours’ list gets something they can use. “We start at eight o’clock in the morning, and the base shows up with somewhere between 35 to 40 people. In an hour and 15 minutes, we can put 23 items in 210 boxes without missing an item. It’s just like a bunch of ants.”

Rachelle says, while it is often exhausting, and volunteers “work until we’re so tired we’re going home” to prepare the baskets of food and toys in time for pick up by participating Lions Clubs; community support makes it all possible – and kind of fun, too. “We enjoy it. Sometimes we think we’re not gonna make it, but we always do. You have to have faith.”