Hammond Hamper

Just after Santa's visit--2:38am
Just after Santa’s visit–2:38am

Christmas at Hammond Forever House is less frantic every year. We have settled into some fun traditions and don’t stress out because we know everything will turn out ok. We are also more and more comfortable NOT buying presents for everyone.

Everyone on both sides of the family seems happy to converge here from Vancouver and the other side of Maple Ridge. For our part, Leanne and I are happy not to have to travel on Christmas Day.

Fern didn't pee inside once!
Fern didn’t pee inside once!

We invite a couple of other families whose extended families are farther away, and this year the table was a comfortable 18 souls plus the in-laws new puppy, Fern.

People arrive throughout the day, the kitchen buzzes, conversation abounds, gifts are exchanged and by 6pm there is a feast on the table and nobody is exhausted. It is a miracle.

Another little miracle we experienced was the Hammond Christmas Hamper.

Here in Maple Ridge we have an organization called the Christmas Hamper Society which collects and distributes donations to families who are struggling and who otherwise would not be able to afford a happy Christmas. They collect monetary donations, unwrapped toys as well as some gifts for the Moms and Dads so that kids can give their parents something. Each child gets a bundle and each family gets a certificate to help them buy a Christmas dinner. It’s a great idea.

This year Hammond Neighbours had an informal Christmas Hamper of our own. Hammond, as you know, is a historic part of the City of Maple Ridge. Our facebook group is approaching 700 members and one of them sent me a message asking for help. It is her courage that made this possible. Without including details which could identify her, she wrote:

I’m not sure you’ll be able to help, but I thought it might be worth a try since you are well known in our community.

This last year has been massively difficult for us…There is literally nothing left over. I have no idea how I am going to put anything at all under the tree this year for our children. The thought makes me sick to my stomach. I feel like I’m letting them down. (they are 8 and under… And don’t understand that we are struggling).

My hope is that you might be able to reach out to our community and see if anybody might have any sort of donations.. Toys or things that maybe their kids don’t play with anymore? That we might be able to put something under the tree….

Thank you for reading.

I hashed out an idea with other admins of the Hammond Neighbours group and sent out the following:

Hammond Neighbours Christmas Appeal

Do you know anyone in our neighbourhood who is going through tough times this Christmas?

Yesterday, I received a private message from a neighbour whose family I met this summer. Their financial issues are temporary, but that doesn’t make it easy.

Chatting with another admin, we realized that there might be other families in Hammond in similar straits. So let’s do something. Neighbour power…activate!

If you have things you could give that would be suitable for Christmas gifts (especially for kids), send a message to one of the Hammond Neighbours admins. If you or someone you know is struggling, send a message to one of the admins.

Everyone’s name will be kept private.

This will be a lot like the work the Christmas Hamper does, just closer to home. We’ll collect up the donations—please do NOT wrap them–at Hammond Forever House and make sure they reach Hammond Neighbours who are in need. Anything left over will be donated to relevant charitable agencies.

To me, it is another case of living in an abundant society with people struggling right under our noses.

And our neighbours did not disappoint. After only a few days we had had 4 donations on the front porch and the pile of goodies looked like this.

New stuff plus hand-me-downs

Another neighbour wanted to donate $100. Still another had tickets to a Sesame Street Live show to give away. Leanne and I thought we would like to buy them a Scout Tree and maybe a turkey.

We ended up helping two families. The Moms paid us a visit and selected things for their kids. There were seven kids between them.

I was a little too quick giving everything away and a few more donations came in. One for the parents from a neighbour who works at a hair salon:

Stockings for Mom and Dad
Stockings for Moms and Dads

And a beautiful collection of Teddy Bears:

With $50 going to each family and a free leftover tree from the Scout Tree lot (which sold out and closed up earlier than last year) my sole contribution besides a little time was a Christmas Tree stand for the family who had never had a Christmas Tree before.

One Hammond Neighbour summed it up nicely with this post:

Hammond, it takes a community….I dropped off some hamper Christmas presents on a porch, a neighbour stopped by and gave me some moose sausage, the kids playing street hockey, the little girl next door came to help me build my Christmas village, the book hut on 205 is decorated, a lost dog has been found, the park on the river, tennis court, corner stores, I can see the big dipper and the mountains on the north shore …bought tickets to a live theatre that I can walk to…its all good, Merry Christmas!

Within a week of the original appeal, our work was done and I posted:

Well, everybody, this informal Hammond Christmas Hamper has wrapped up. After the Moms visited on Sunday there were a few more awesome donations so we paid a Santa visit to 2 families today. Among the new presents was $50 each for whatever (turkey?) and a leftover 4-foot tree from the Scout tree sales. My daughter and I visited the one family which has been in Canada a year and helped them figure out how to put up the tree–first Christmas Tree! Yay! Both my kids came along to be elves when we visited the other family and met the Dad. The only thing I personally bought was a ten-dollar tree stand. What a great experience for the kids. Thank you Hammond! We are all in this together.

When I think of how much fun my kids had being Santa I want to thank the first family who spoke up for the experience. It was invaluable for all of us.

Pie of Neighbourly Love
Pie of Neighbourly Love

This was the same family who had come over and picked some of the apples from our trees in the summer and made all kinds of use of them. Last night at our annual open house, we had pie baked with the apple-pie filling that the Mom of that family had made from our apples. Remember how sad I was when we wasted so much fruit this year (and even the pies that I baked with the fruit)?  I couldn’t have asked for more fitting a payment.

I hope our Hammond Hamper made a difference for those families. For us, it was a Merry Christmas indeed.

Published by

James Rowley

James lives in Maple Ridge, BC, Canada with his amazing partner, Leanne Koehn, and their two amazing kids in their beautiful house. He studied Science and English Literature at the University of British Columbia where he met Leanne. He also studied acting for a while at Studio 58 in Vancouver. He works as a teacher of English and curriculum writer for new Canadians.

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