The chilly holiday season was made a little warmer for 79 families in the Lac La Biche area by the kindness of strangers and the local Santa's Helpers group. The families were the recipients of toys, food and shopping vouchers from the local group's annual Christmas campaign.
The Lac La Biche Firefighters' Society, with the help of the local Kinettes, the Canadian Native Friendship Center, the Waskaysoo Food Bank, local businesses and community support, wrapped 570 individual gifts for 190 area kids leading up to Christmas Day.
"People were very generous with donations so we were able to give three gifts per child," firefighters' society spokesperson Natasha Downes told Lakeland This Week.
A few days before Christmas, an assembly line of Santa's Helpers gift wrappers were at the old Lac La Biche firehall on 102 Avenue. They worked for hours, matching lists identifying the gender and age of children to appropriate toys from a mountain of donated and purchased gifts.
"There was everything from dolls to craft sets, to trucks, books, games, Lego, Minecraft and so much more," said Downes, who was thrilled with the response from the community.
All of the wrapped gifts, food hampers and gift cards were then either delivered to families or picked up in the days leading up to Christmas.
"We had lots of big "Thank Yous" from families both when we call and when they get their hampers," said Downes, adding that the smiles are the best reward. " It really makes you feel good trying to help provide a little extra help to families at Christmas and hopefully relieving a little bit of the stress around the holidays."
The recipients of the latest round of Santa's Helpers kindness — a tradition tied to the local fire services department that goes back more than 25 years — signed up for the program at the Lac La Biche Canadian Native Friendship Centre. The food bank already offers a food hamper service to registered clients over the holiday season, so any families with kids were referred to the Santa's Helpers program for toys as well.
Downes and the Santa's Helpers crew want to thank community members and businesses for cash donations to the annual program, as well as the local businesses, like the Bargain Shop, for hosting toy donation boxes.
"The Bargain Shop also had a toy drive and a portion of all sales on a particular day goes towards this program," she said.
The Santa's Helpers program has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars, including funds raised from an annual radio-thon, and helped hundreds of families over the years. Donations to the program can be made year round. Information about the Santa's Helpers program can be found on the Lac La Biche Firefighters' Society social media pages.