AMHERST – Phil Baxter never knows how busy Christmas for Kids is going to be.
As the program prepares for its 25th year, the veteran member of the Amherst Lions Club, which is the co-ordinating organization, Baxter said last year was quieter than previous years. That doesn’t mean it will be quiet this year.
“Generally, we prepare for anywhere between 500 and 600 children,” said Baxter. “Some years the number is up; some years it’s down.”
Last year, the program helped just over 520 children, compared to more than 600 in 2016.
Baxter admitted it wouldn’t surprise him to see the numbers climb again this year.
“Times are tough and the economy really hasn’t improved that much,” Baxter said. “It could be a busy year, but you never know. We aim to be prepared for it to be very busy.”
Christmas for Kids provided gifts for 615 children in 2016 - a jump from 562 in 2015. It also took referrals for 541 food boxes, including 392 in Amherst and 149 in Cumberland County.
This is the Amherst Lions Club's fourth year co-ordinating the program since taking over from Jean Miller and her group of volunteers. It operated the 2014 program with Miller before taking over in 2015.
Springhill has its own Christmas programs.
Christmas for Kids phone line - 902-667-1949 - will be open Monday, Nov. 13 and will operate Monday to Thursday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. throughout November, and Monday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in December until Dec. 7 when referrals will no longer be taken.
Parents can pick up gifts for their children from Dec. 10 to 14, and then the program will close for another year.
Once again, people can also make grocery box requests via the Christmas for Kids line, although that organization does not handle the food or food donations.
Also, angel trees will be up in various locations around Cumberland County next week including at Dayle's Grand Market, Scotiabank branches in Oxford and Pugwash, the Pugwash Co-op, Dairy Queen, Archway Insurance, Amherst Pharmasave, Community Credit Union, the Artisans Market in the Amherst Centre mall, the Cumberland Regional Health Care Centre and at the Christmas for Kids headquarters in Amherst Centre.
The value of angel gifts is $40 and volunteers will add items to each gift bag, including toys, chocolates and other items.
Financial contributions can be made at the Christmas for Kids office or by mail to Christmas for Kids, c/o Phil Baxter, 1925 Highway 6, Truemanville, N.S. B4H 3Y2.
Receipts for monetary donations will be issued and the centre is also looking for donations of knitted items.
Baxter said the program gets lots of support from the community while the headquarters is donated by the mall management.