Holiday helpers with Caring and Sharing Exchange pack hampers for families in need

Demand hits nearly 6,000 this year for non-profit's Christmas Exchange program

Volunteers with the Caring and Sharing Exchange were busier than Santa’s sleep-deprived elves on deadline as they packed hundreds of food hampers on Wednesday morning for delivery to families and individuals in need this Christmas.

The Horticulture Building at Lansdowne was filled with bright morning light, the echoing sounds of holiday music and red floppy Santa hats.

Deputy Mayor Mark Taylor stepped in for Mayor Jim Watson, who’s recovering from his emergency appendectomy. Fellow city councillors Mathieu Fleury (Rideau-Vanier) and Jean Cloutier (Alta Vista) were there to pack boxes.

So was Ottawa Liberal MPP John Fraser and his colleague Yasir Naqvi, whose early-morning energy and enthusiasm should serve him well on the campaign trail during the 2018 provincial election.

Caring and Sharing Exchange
Volunteers showed up to the Horticulture Building at Lansdowne on Wednesday, December 20, 2017, to help pack food hamper boxes for the Caring and Sharing's Christmas Exchange program. Photo by Caroline Phillips
Caring and Sharing Exchange
Peter Veselovsky, president of Konnexis, helps to hand out food for Caring and Sharing's Christmas Exchange program. Photo by Caroline Phillips
Caring and Sharing Exchange
Conlin Bedard LLP associates Shannel Rajan and Linden Dales with partner Ben Bedard volunteered at the Hamper Packing Day for the Caring and Sharing's Christmas Exchange program, held at the Horticulture building at Lansdowne on Wednesday, December 20, 2017. Photo by Caroline Phillips

“Thank you for giving your time to this worthy initiative,” board president Paul Lalonde said while thanking volunteers and corporate sponsors for coming out.

Lalonde reminded the room of his personal connection to the cause. Back in this 1960s, the food hamper program helped his grandmother provide a Christmas dinner for her children on more than one occasion.

“This organization has a special place in my heart,” said Lalonde, who’s also a partner at Ottawa employment law firm and sponsor Emond Harnden. “I know what a difference you’re all making in the lives of many families this Christmas season.”

Caring and Sharing Exchange
Ottawa lawyer Paul Lalonde, board president of the Caring and Sharing Exchange, volunteered with his wife, Jen, and their three daughters, Isabelle, seven, Isla, five, and Elsie, three, at the Hamper Packing Day held at the Horticulture Building at Lansdowne on Wednesday, December 20, 2017. Photo by Caroline Phillips

Lalonde found the guts to finally flaunt the Christmas blazer that he considered wearing last year, but then chickened out. Why the change of heart? He was inspired by fellow volunteer Dave Williams, who didn’t think twice about wearing his bright and busy holiday jacket.

The food hamper program has existed in Ottawa for 102 years. This year, the organization has close to 6,000 families requesting help but still has a list of nearly 1,000 households waiting for assistance. Almost 50 percent of its beneficiaries are children.

Recipients include a single mother of two, living in assisted housing, and diagnosed with cancer.

“She’s finding it hard to make ends meet but she really wants to provide a Christmas for her two little girls,” said executive director Cindy Smith. “These are the kind of people we see; people who are living under circumstances that have left them in a bad place. But, we’re here to help.”

Taylor asked the volunteers whether they would consider performing one more task after they were done packing and delivering the hampers: promote the year-round charity to the general public.

“Go be an evangelist for the cause; go talk about the need in our community and how great our community is at stepping up and serving that need,” he said.

Caring and Sharing Exchange
Cindy Smith with John Fraser, MPP for Ottawa South, at the Hamper Packing Day for Caring and Sharing's Christmas Exchange program, at the Horticulture Building at Lansdowne on Wednesday, December 20, 2017. Photo by Caroline Phillips
Caring and Sharing Exchange
From left, Coun. Jean Cloutier with Deputy Mayor Mark Taylor and Coun. Mathieu Fleury at the Hamper Packing Day for the Caring and Sharing Exchange's Christmas Exchange Program, held Wednesday, December 20, 2017, at the Horticulture Building at Lansdowne. Photo by Caroline Phillips 
Caring and Sharing Exchange
Attorney General Yasir Naqvi, MPP for Ottawa Centre, volunteered during the Caring and Sharing Exchange's Hamper Packing Day at Lansdowne's Horticulture Building on Wednesday, December 20, 2017. Photo by Caroline Phillips
Caring and Sharing Exchange
Volunteers filled hundreds of boxes with food for the Caring and Sharing's Christmas Exchange program at the Horticulture Building at Lansdowne on Wednesday, December 20, 2017. Photo by Caroline Phillips

- caroline@obj.ca