Some Winnipeg charities are struggling to meet increased demand for services this holiday season.
On Nov. 8, the Christmas Cheer Board opened their phone lines only to be inundated with calls — 13,000 within the first hour, and over 40,000 by the end of the day.
That’s nearly double last year’s first-day total, which was 23,000.
“It’s really a sign of just how great the need is, and how desperate people are just to get some food into their hands in the coming season,” said Executive Director Shawna Bell.
Bell said her team expected first-day calls to be up, but not by such a significant amount.
“What we’re seeing is people who probably have never actually accessed our support before are coming to us in need of help. We’re trying our best to accommodate those needs,” she said.
Last year, the organization gave just under 17,000 food hampers to Winnipeg families in need. This year, they’ve budgeted for 18,000 — but Bell expects that number will increase.
Volunteers process about 500 hamper applications per day, and are working to squeeze in more.
Bell attributes the spike in demand to rising grocery bills. It’s something the Christmas Cheer Board has felt, too. Their Christmas hampers will no longer include a turkey; instead, those funds have been reallocated to include items that can feed a family beyond just one meal.
On top of the high number of applications, the board’s usual pool of donors are also feeling the pinch.
“We also appreciate that the folks who have donated to us in the past are facing similar circumstances,” Bell said.
Although times are tough, Bell said Winnipeggers continue to be generous with their money and time, and that there are still many volunteer positions to be filled.
Operation Red Nose is another holiday charity looking for help this holiday season.
The ride service operates in November and December, bringing party-goers and their vehicles home safely. It’s their first year back after a two-year hiatus due to COVID-19.
About 150 volunteers have signed up so far — but that’s far short of what’s needed.
“Each drive team takes three people, so you do the math,” said Winnipeg coordinator Sharra Hinton. “We need anywhere from 30 to 150 different volunteers depending on the night we’re working.”
Hinton said they have slightly fewer volunteers signed up at this point than in past years. She says the warm late fall weather paired with the two-year absence has meant Operation Red Nose may have slipped some people’s minds.
“I think a lot of people, it’s just not even on their radar yet,” Hinton said.
Operation Red Nose has a database of past volunteers they call on volunteer again. Without enough volunteers, those seeking rides may face longer waits. Hinton said they try and get to riders within 30 minutes, but fewer volunteers could see that pushed to an hour.
“We’re going to run with our program no matter what, regardless of the number of volunteers we have,” Hinton said.
Both Operation Red Nose and the Christmas Cheer Board say despite the challenges, they’re planning to help as many people as they can, without being stretched too thin.
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