This year the initiative helped people in about 500 households, says coordinator Matt Campbell.
“I like to say a huge thank you to the community as a whole for getting the program. We couldn’t do it without the support.”
That support includes donations and also the help of more than 2,000 volunteers.
“We have about 250 volunteers here today,” Campbell explained. “We had probably 1,500 volunteers come through and pack over the week, and then we have another 500 volunteers that help collect different (donations).”
Cloverdale’s Pacific Community Church has ran hamper program for nearly 30 years.
“Our largest family has two adults and eight children and that size runs all the way down to our smallest household, which is a 92-year-old senior woman.”
Families get hampers, which are boxes filled with food items (the amount of boxes one receives is based on the size of the family); they get to “shop” at an additional free food store made up of last-minute donated food items (this includes Zanetti’s lasagna); they get to shop at a free—new only—toy store (one toy per child); and they get to shop at a free second-hand store filled with mostly clothes and toys.
None of that includes anything from the free second-hand store, Campbell added.
This year, the hamper program dramatically expanded its free store. They had enough items to fill Shannon Hall at the Cloverdale Fairgrounds. Campbell said they have had limited, free second-hand items in the past, but nothing like this year.
“We’ve had the free store for the last two years, but this year it’s the biggest it’s ever been because of the [increase in] donations.”
Campbell said the free store is mostly made up of gently used clothing and toys, but there are also other items such as kitchen and household things.
“We had an overwhelming response from the community in terms of giving to our free store, which is an added bonus this year,” he said.
Temple volunteers each year with the hamper program in various capacities.
“From donors to volunteers to the people they serve, the program builds community,” she said. “We want people to feel safe and welcome here. After they shop and get their gifts, we also encourage them to stick around for coffee and some lunch.”
Bill Van Geeman takes a week off work each year to manage the whole operation at the Fairgrounds.
He’s there when the donations are brought in, he coordinates the volunteers who sort the donations all week, and he’s there up until the last item gets distributed to the last family in need.
“I’ve been doing it for about four or five years,” said Van Geeman. “I look at my life, and I look at how God has blessed me. How can I not want to pass (that blessing) on?”
Van Geeman said he also loves to give back to such “a great community.”
Maurizio Zinetti, founder of Zinetti Foods, donated nearly 1,500 servings of frozen lasagna to the hamper program this year.
“Our business has been in the Cloverdale Community since 1991,” said Zinetti. “We just want to give back to the community. They’ve always supported us.”
Zinetti Foods makes frozen gourmet pasta and entrees. They began their relationship with the hamper program in 2017.
Zinetti has also been a sponsor of another Pacific Community Church initiative: The Coldest Night of the Year fundraising event in February. Zinetti donates all the chili for volunteers and participants.
“We’re really proud to be a part of the hamper program,” added Natalie Zinetti, Zinetti Foods co-owner, and Maurizio’s wife.
The hamper program works as a well-oiled machine with various church groups and other volunteer groups forming different parts that all spin in a greater unison to achieve a singular goal: making a brighter Christmas for the less fortunate.
There are greeters, food distributors, gift facilitators, and drivers. (The drivers take people home so they don’t have to tote their new gifts, groceries, and clothing on the bus.)
There are donation deliverers, sorters, and packers.
“We have eight different churches that are have people volunteering here,” said Campbell. “There are about 60 different businesses that have sent people in during the week to help sort. We’ve had a lot of school and sports groups come through. It’s a full-on, community-wide event.”
Campbell said the program now helps people in other parts of Surrey, and Langley and White Rock.
“It mostly helps people in Cloverdale, but it also spills over into other communities in the area to reach some seniors and families that are on the fringes of their local communities.”