Caring and Sharing Exchange continues long tradition of helping Ottawa community at Christmas

Ottawa charity brings corporate sponsors, volunteers together to pack more than 400 holiday meals for those in need

The packing of holiday food hampers ran so smoothly on Thursday that even Santa’s workshop now seems — by comparison — slow, inefficient and destined for automation.

Community leaders, corporate sponsors and volunteers came together to organize more than 400 boxes of food for families and individuals in need of a Christmas dinner this holiday season.

The annual event returned, bright and early, to the Horticulture Building at Lansdowne in support of The Caring and Sharing Exchange, a local charity that provides aid to individuals and families during Christmas, as well as to disadvantaged students during the back-to-school season.

The organization’s 103-year-old Christmas Exchange assistance program has seen significant growth, with 6,000-plus families on its list. That adds up to almost 19,000 people, said executive director Cindy Smith. More than half the recipients are children.

The charity has been able to meet most of this year's demands but, as of Thursday, there were still about 1,000 families waiting for a food hamper or redeemable gift voucher. “It’s not too late,” said Smith. “We’re reaching out to the community to help us reach our goal."

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Some 150 volunteers participated in the Hamper Packing Day for The Caring and Sharing Exchange's Christmas Exchange Program to provide assistance to families and individuals during Christmas. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, Stéphane Giguère and Mayor Jim Watson helped pack food hamper boxes for families and individuals in need of a holiday meal this Christmas. Photo by Caroline Phillips

Participants filled cardboard boxes with milk, butter, bread, potatoes, carrot, onions, cookies, powdered hot chocolate, canned beans, cranberry sauce, stuffing mix and bags of apples. The turkeys were added later.

Many donned their trusty Christmas-themed attire, from neckties to Santa hats, as they worked together to fill the boxes.

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From left, Sharon Lloyd, a recruiter with Stevenson & White and a member of the board with the The Caring and Sharing Exchange, with the charity's executive director, Cindy Smith, at this year's Hamper Packing Day held at the Horticulture Building on Thursday, December 20, 2018. Photo by Caroline Phillips

It was the first time Mike LeClair, CEO of Ottawa Business Interiors (OBI), participated. He was very impressed with how well-organized the event was. “I would certainly do it again,” he added.

OBI shook things up this year by taking the money it normally spends on client holiday gifts and instead helping The Caring and Sharing Exchange provide 100 more food hampers. It sent out holiday cards to let its clients know about its donation, made in its clients’ honour. The reaction from clients was "overwhelmingly" positive, said LeClair.

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From left, Ron Delorme, Melissa Galla, Jennifer Avery and her dad, Mike LeClair, at the Horticulture Building at Lansdowne on Thursday, December 20, 2018, for the annual Hamper Packing Day. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, Deka Barre, Alexandra Cherniuk, Anneke Cundasawmy, and Amber Clouthier with RE/MAX Hallmark Realty Group's "Foundation for Giving", at the Hamper Packing Day held at Lansdowne. Photo by Caroline Phillips

Participants included Mayor Jim Watson and city councillors Jean Clouthier (Alta Vista) and Keith Egli (Knoxdale-Merivale). Also seen was Stéphane Giguère, CEO of Ottawa Community Housing.

For others, it was just fun to get out of the office. “Our daily routine can be a grind, so it’s nice to get the whole team out and see other companies and meet our political leaders,” said Peter Veselovsky, president of Konnexis, a Kanata-based software company that deals with the sterilization of medical devices on an industrial scale.

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The Caring and Sharing Exchange was back at the Horticulture Building at Lansdowne for its annual Hamper Packing Day. Photo by Caroline Phillips

— caroline@obj.ca