Christmas Basket Campaign Lights up the Holidays
The Christmas Basket Campaign is well underway in High Level.
The annual project provides both food and gifts to less fortunate families of FVSD students in order to brighten their holidays.
Alexandra Michael, Student Wellness Coach at High Level Public School, said the program is a way to help as many High Level students as possible have a very merry Christmas.
“We do it every year around Christmas time,” she said.
The project involves collecting donations from students at HLPS, Florence MacDougall Community School, Spirit of the North Community School, and The Learning Store for Christmas hampers supplying food and gifts. Each class donates a specific item. For example, some classes might bring in peanut butter, or others might bring in cranberry sauce.
Not only are the students donating food and gifts, but the staff are giving as well. Each school encourages donations through specialized means - such as a reverse advent calendar at HLPS where staff bring in a specific food item a day for 11 days. The Child's Circle Worker project (FVSD) works side-by-side with the Mental Health Capacity Building staff to facilitate the Christmas program.
Community sponsors (car dealerships, IDA, Dechant Construction, Budget, and National Car Rentals) provided turkeys. Tolko had a coin donation box as well as a toy drop-off. The post office accepted donations. Independent and Super A reduced costs as well as made donations. Community members and families donated or “adopted” a family. The Golden Range Society packed food. Wrapping is done by the Learning Store, Parent Link, the Town of High Level, and the Crafty Night Before Christmas as well as school staff and students. Atco takes on a family from our lists. Deliveries are made by the RCMP, CPOs, and members of the High Level Fire Department.
Last year, the program also saw The Learning Store staff, AHS Health Promotions, and the Town of High Level helping with deliveries.
The hampers are built around a traditional Christmas dinner, including turkeys and extras. There is also a special Christmas breakfast added with items such as cereals or pancake batter.
“And then we usually give even more,” said Michael. “Each family will get two boxes of food. And then each family gets a huge box of gifts.”
The program relies on donations. In instances where cash is donated, that money is used to fill gaps in donations. The schools also collaborate with the annual Crafty Night Before Christmas event, which supplies gifts for the hampers.
“Usually we see about $7,000 worth of toys,” said Michael.
“They are beyond generous. It’s amazing – amount of generosity we see in High Level. It’s such a close-knit community.”
Gifts and supplies are purchased locally – there is almost never a need to shop online.
“We shop local as much as we can, to keep the resources here,” Michael said.
The annual program is also an opportunity for students to learn about compassion and generosity – valuable lessons on their own.
“We talk with them about having a giving heart, and having compassion,” Michael said.
“These are for kids in our schools, so we talk a lot about how these gifts could be for their friends – though they don’t know it. We talk a lot about being kind and non-judgemental. You don’t know who is getting this, and who struggles.”
Last year, the schools handed baskets out to 60 families. Michael said this year they are on pace for similar numbers. As of Monday, Dec. 16, there were 60 baskets planned, as well as 193 individuals receiving 311 gifts plus goodie bags, for 301 total family members assisted by the program.
“It’s quite a big thing,” said Michael.
“It’s important in this small town to band together and make sure everyone is supported holistically,” she added. “That’s what I love about this program. It doesn’t matter what your situation. We never turn anyone away. We will take any application as long as there is a kid in one of our schools. And I really think that helps people a lot.”
Michael also highlight the vital role the Town of High Level plays in the program.
“This program doesn’t run without the Town,” she said. “It would never work without RCMP, without Bylaw, without a Crafty Night Before Christmas, and families who donate. That partnership is what makes this successful. And without these people it would be very hard to do this. We just rely so much on them.”
Acting Director of Community Services Jena Clarke said Town staff will be part of the team that assists with organizing and wrapping gifts.
“It’s really important to support the schools,” she said. “They all work so closely together. Their students go into our programs, and we go into the schools to help, so I think it’s just important for us all to work together for families that have need and make Christmas better for the whole community. And it’s nice for us to be able to go and help out as well.”
Clarke said she had an opportunity to help deliver hampers last year and found the experience very rewarding.
“It’s just so great,” she said. “You get to go into the family’s home and you get to see them and say hello. Then you drop off the hampers, and they are just so happy and thankful. It was really nice to do last year.”