It was another busy Christmas season at the ‘toy house’ in Antigonish, home of the annual Monsignor Hugh MacPherson Council of the Knights of Columbus toy drive.
“We delivered the last packages at 9 p.m. on Christmas Eve,” Clarence Deyoung, an organizer of the seventh annual event, said.
This year, 344 families from Antigonish town and county, including 162 children – from newborn to age 15 – received gift packages from the volunteer effort based at Antigonish Market Square.
“It was a fantastic year,” Deyoung said.
There were many examples of what could be described as a true reflection of the spirit of the season, including the more than $7,800 in money and toys donated by students, teachers and staff at Dr. John Hugh Gillis Regional High School through their annual Christmas Joy campaign.
“We have a strong box and one day our treasurer opened it and found an envelope with a $1,000 cheque,” Deyoung said, in citing another indication of that seasonal generosity.
He added this year’s results would not have been possible without ever-broadening community support for the initiative, whether it is the individuals, families, groups and organizations that made monetary and toy donations, or the myriad volunteers who ensured Christmases were brightened for the benefactors.
“We feel that, more and more, people are starting to understand [the need],” he said.
“It is Christmas for them, every day, and they know there are families who are not as fortunate.
“People participated greatly and that is why we have been so successful,” Deyoung added.
That answer to the Knights’ call for contributions came as financial contributions, toy donations; not to mention homemade hats, mittens and other items.
“Again, it was a phenomenal response,” Deyoung said.
He noted, as usual, the toy drive presented an “odd challenge.”
“But, we always describe them as good ones because they are fixable,” Deyoung explained.
One of the common challenges is providing correct sizes for items, such as winter coats and boots.
“We were able to deal with those [requests] and we never mind doing that,” he added.
Deyoung said another key to success is the growing relationships between the Knights and local organizations that serve children and their families, throughout the year, such as the Naomi Society and Antigonish Women’s Resource Centre (AWRC).
“We really enjoy working with them,” Deyoung said.
He explained these groups have been able to help families access the program.
“There are people who are still too embarrassed [to come to us], so organizations are able to help us make those connections,” Deyoung said.
He noted they have also helped drive organizers establish a reputation as the “go-to place” for toys during the Christmas season.
Now, with the gifts delivered, organizers have already started unwrapping plans for the 2019 initiative.
Deyoung said volunteers are always looking for ways in which to better the delivery of the service.
“We are also getting requests for groceries,” he noted, in illustrating one of the newer appeals from people accessing the toy drive.
In keeping with the aforementioned theme of ‘working together,’ Deyoung noted they plan to discuss that situation with officials from the Antigonish Community Food Bank.
“It is all about helping families as much as we can as Christmas,” he said.