After packing gift bags for Chilliwack families for 40 years, Barbara Caldwell has it down to a science.
The retired elementary school teacher buys gifts throughout the year, and then bundles them up into bags. She sorts the bags into banana boxes according to gender — and 10 different age groups.
This year, she assembled over 300 packages.
“I try to do 30 for each age group, sometimes less,” she said. “Quite often when they get to the 12- and 13-year-olds, it will depend on whether I was able to find books suitable for them. That’s why I started gathering up board games and jigsaw puzzles when I see them on sale.”
Caldwell donates the packages to Chilliwack Community Services. The non-profit is one of 26 community organizations that benefits from The Province’s 105-year-old Empty Stocking Fund. Donations from readers go to help needy families in the Lower Mainland. To donate, see the info following this story.
Caldwell started donating when the principal at École Cheam Elementary, where she was teaching, suggested collecting items for toy hampers as a school-wide project.
“I got to thinking that that’s a long school holiday when your family doesn’t have much money. At that time, there were two book clubs that my students were ordering from. I was able to get good deals on books. So I started putting packages together that always included a book and other things to do. From there, it just grew.”
She started adding toys as her list expanded to include pre-schoolers and teenagers.
“I started getting dolls, and I knitted and crocheted so I would make them extra clothing. Then I started looking for building sets and vehicle play sets and extra cars when they went on sale to balance out the dolls. It’s grown from there to where I’ve got the shelves all set up and everything’s all sorted and stored in my master bedroom.”
The 73-year-old, who retired in 2005 after teaching for 30 years, keeps her eye out for gifts all year round.
“It’s a challenge. I love going into a store and seeing ‘clearance.’ I’ll hit up Walmart in September when they have a good deal on wax crayons, and Staples after they’ve finished selling school supplies because they’ll knock things down quite a bit. I’ll get things for the older kids then.”
She keeps track of how much she spends, but doesn’t have a budget.
“I don’t pay too close attention to it. I don’t travel long distances anymore or anything like that. And I love the challenge of finding the things and then putting packages together. I have a list that I always carry with me of certain things I’m looking for to complete packages. I’ll pick a theme, like a well-known character like Fancy Nancy or Winnie-the-Pooh. I’ve been noticing things like that. This year, I went overboard on Barbies that I had in my stash seeing that the movie came out.”
An unsung hero, Caldwell rarely hears from those who benefit from her largesse. But she says that she gets “lots of feedback from the people in Community Services. The people who put the hampers together really appreciate that I do all that sorting for them. And they know when they pick up one of my packages, it’s complete. Anything that’s needed is right there.”
The Province’s Empty Stocking Fund campaign runs until Dec. 31.
Donations can be made by:
Online at: https://theprovince.com/esf
By mail to: The Province Empty Stocking Fund
968 East Cordova St., Vancouver, B.C., V6A 1M6
By calling: 604-253-6911
2023 direct donation link: https://secure.e2rm.com/registrant/DonationPage.aspx?eventid=385682
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