Sooke firefighters will decorate their trucks, fire up the Christmas music and take to the streets at dusk to collect food, toys, and cash donations for the Sooke Food Bank on Dec. 14.
It’s the Sooke Santa Run and it’s a beloved holiday tradition and for the 26th time will help bring joy to those folks in the community that need a little help.
“This is the third year that I’ve been involved in this project, and I can tell you that for myself, and I’m sure all the volunteers, it’s something that puts a smile on our faces,” Lowell Holmquist, Sooke firefighter, said.
“I remember how last year someone donated some bikes and I heard how, when those bikes were delivered to the children, they couldn’t believe it. They were over the moon.”
The Santa Run is part of a larger Christmas campaign that last year managed to collect more than $8,000 in cash donations, mounds of toys, and two large trailers of food for the Sooke Christmas Bureau and Sooke Food Bank.
“The food donations are really critical to our operation,” Kim Metzger, Sooke Food Bank executive director, said.
“Events like the Santa Run help fill our shelves, and for a couple of months we can catch our breath and not worry about where we’re going to get the food we need to fill the next week’s hampers.”
But as much as holiday season initiatives like the Santa Run are a godsend for food bank volunteers, the season can be a particularly difficult time.
“This is not a glamorous volunteer job. Our clients will often come in here very stressed and worried about providing for their families over Christmas and our volunteers take on that stress themselves,” Metzger said.
“They are by nature caring individuals, and they want to do what they can to help. The Santa Run makes that a little easier.”
In addition to the food and cash donations the Santa Run collects, toys are donated by Sooke residents. It’s a trend for which Metzger is very grateful.
“Santa’s Anonymous does a great job of providing toys to children, but they stop after about 1,500 children. We do what we can to pick up the ones they miss,” Metzger said.
“When I started here in 2011 we did 13 toy hampers. This year we’ll do more than 100. It’s a lot of work, but worth it.”
Metzger is quick to point out that when food bank sets up what it calls its “toy factory” in the weeks before Christmas, there’s a real sense of the season felt by all volunteers.
“You’ll see a lot of smiles as they fill those toy hampers,” Metzger said.
The Santa Run is the capstone of the firefighters annual Fill-A-Fire-Truck campaign that includes collection initiatives at Village Foods, Western Foods and Shoppers Drug Mart. More than $100,000 worth of food and cash was donated last year.
“We’re really blessed in Sooke to have a community that really cares,” Metzger said.
“People come and tour the food bank and they get an understanding of how we work. By the time they leave they’re totally behind us and willing to offer their support.”