Salvation Army Capt. Michael Ramsay shows an Angel Tree, a gift-giving program for children from struggling families. MIKE YOUDS PHOTO

Salvation Army Capt. Michael Ramsay shows an Angel Tree, a gift-giving program for children from struggling families. MIKE YOUDS PHOTO

Organizations helping Alberni’s marginalized feel the pinch

Operational demands, wage hike put hole in Bread of Life budget

BY MIKE YOUDS

Special to the News

With fundraising campaigns going full bore in the countdown to the holidays, Christmastime is make-or-break time for Port Alberni-based charities that help the poor and struggling.

This is when the most donations come in to enable programs run year-round by the Bread of Life and Salvation Army, so the pressure is on while the strains of poverty and homelessness have only increased.

The Salvation Army kettle campaign could use more volunteers, said Capt. Michael Ramsay.

“We can always use more volunteers,” Ramsay said. “We’re grateful for them … Every day closer to Christmas, we need more and more volunteers.”

Bread of Life, meanwhile, is sounding an alarm over a budget crunch. Grappling with a $20,000 budget deficit, the society is reaching out to the community for additional giving to get it through the pinch. They’re falling short on fundraising but it’s more complicated than that.

Society treasurer Pam Day said two key factors — longer hours of operation and a minimum wage increase — have put them in the red. The society has been running the operation seven days a week, which has put a hole in its budget, she said. The Bread of Life received a grant from Island Health that enabled them to serve meals on weekends; when the grant was finished, they tried carrying on with weekend meals without the grant money because they saw a need, Day explained.

“We just don’t have anything else to cut,” Day said. “The community would like us to do more.”

She said they are in the process of contacting past donors to help come up with the additional funds.

“I think Port Alberni recognizes the need we have … I’m very optimistic Port Alberni will come through for us again and for people in the community who have the least.”

The society is wholly reliant on donations from the community, receiving no gaming grants.

“We have seen overall needs go up,” said operations manager Corena Brown, acknowledging the effects of a housing crisis. “There are more people just struggling … I know there is a lot more supportive housing in process so hopefully that will help.”

In addition to its food program, providing 50-80 meals a day, the society provides a drop-in medical clinic, outreach centre and support programs.

The centre also does a special dinner for clients at this time of year but holds it after the holiday period.

“We found there were quite a few Christmas dinners going on so we wanted to spread it out,” Brown said.

The dinner takes place Jan. 12, 5 p.m.

A staged reading of A Christmas Carol was held Friday night at Trinity Church as a fundraiser for the society.

For anyone wishing to donate, board members will be at the Bread of Life Centre Monday, Dec. 17, to Monday, Dec. 24, 2-4 p.m. to welcome donations and answer questions. Donations can also be mailed or made online at portalbernibreadoflife.weebly.com/donate.html.

The Festival of Trees organized by the Kuu-us Crisis Line Society continues until Sunday, Dec. 16 with trees on display at the Coulson Building on Third Avenue at Mar Street, West Coast General Hospital and Tseshaht Market. The trees and food hampers will go to 26 families in need.

Over at the Salvation Army, staff and volunteers are busy not only with the kettle campaign but with preparations for Christmas food hampers. They’ll need additional help in the days ahead to deliver 600 hampers to families in the valley.

Walmart will match all donations made to the kettle outside the store on Saturday, Dec. 15.

At the same time, people have been stopping in to help with the Angel Tree program, donating gifts. Children are able to make a gift request for the first time.

“This is the first year you can give them something that might really make their Christmas special,” Ramsay said.

The kettle campaign fundraising goal is $100,000 this year.