The Newmarket Lions Club will begin distributing food cards and other gifts to local families in need this week as part of its annual Santa Fund.
This year, 1,200 Newmarket residents have registered for assistance.
The program to help support families during the Christmas season originally began during the Second World War.
“When the men were overseas fighting the war, the Newmarket Lions started the Santa Fund to give out gift baskets to their wives and children at Christmastime. It has expanded since then,” said Kirby Brock, Santa Fund committee co-chair.
“Last year, we got 1,000 people ... this year we are giving out 385 vouchers to 1,200 at a cost of $38,000."
The program provides food vouchers ranging from $50 for individuals to $150 for families. In the past, the food vouchers were worth a maximum of $100, but this year it was decided to increase it because of the economic hardship caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are fortunate to have the funding available to be able to step it up this year,” said Brock. “Because of COVID-19 and the number of people who have been laid off, we decided we should do as much as we can.”
The program is supported by 140 donors in the community.
On top of the vouchers, recipients will also receive a family dental kit containing toothbrushes and other items, as well as a tin of Christmas cookies. Children under 12 years old get a loot bag filled with things like books, toys, and colouring materials.
Recipients are also being encouraged to go to the Newmarket Food Pantry, which has a program to provide a ham or turkey for Christmas dinner.
The Salvation Army has already forwarded the list of registered families and distribution will take place on Monday and Tuesday at a storefront at Newmarket Plaza, which was donated for the Lions to use by Delcom Management Services.
Because of the pandemic, some changes had to be made other than the value of the vouchers. For instance, the Lions Club has obtained permission from York Region Public Health to do the program this year.
“Everything is hugely different this year. We must have PPE, plexiglass, air purifiers, that sort of thing. We’ll have lines and people outside to greet them and make sure everyone is comfortable. We’re also trying to keep it down to 15 people per hour, with only two people inside at a time,”
Eighteen club members will be tasked with calling each family and giving them a time to show up at the storefront to pick their items.
“Everyone has to come by appointment this year. We used to say just come in the morning or come in the afternoon,” said Brock.
After the distribution is finished this week, the Lions will be making deliveries of vouchers for two other community groups who have asked for assistance for their own efforts to support 75 impoverished families this Christmas.