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Jack Knox: Grant helps charity help out-of-sight seniors at Christmas

Christmas packages for seniors are being assembled in a corner of the Soap for Hope Canada warehouse in Vic West.
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Anne McIntyre, executive director of Soap for Hope Canada, in the charity's warehouse. Soap for Hope is getting a Times Colonist Christmas Fund grant to help with the cost of Christmas packages for seniors in Greater Victoria. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

Christmas packages for seniors are being assembled in a corner of the Soap for Hope Canada warehouse in Vic West.

Puzzles, games, chocolates, toques, handwritten Christmas cards, that sort of thing, all in addition to the toothpaste and shampoo and other hygiene products that regularly go out the door to those who need, but can’t afford, them. It looks like Santa’s workshop, or at least what Santa’s workshop would look like if he took personal health more seriously.

The Christmas packages will be distributed through New Horizons and go out to nine seniors facilities around Victoria that Soap for Hope Canada works with on a continual basis. That’s why the non-profit got a grant from the Times Colonist Christmas Fund this year — to make life a little easier for older people who, out of the spotlight, aren’t always top of mind.

That’s the thing about need. It isn’t always obvious. We might all be familiar with the scene on Pandora Avenue, but that’s just the most in-your-face side. Isolated seniors are much less visible. So are low-income families. So are other, unconsidered pockets of need.

“I feel we’re in the little cracks and crevices, trying to help those who don’t always get a hand up,” says Anne McIntyre, the charity’s executive director. She’s standing in the middle of the William Street warehouse from which, despite its appropriately out-of-sight innocuousness, 1.2 million items flowed to recipients all over B.C. last year.

It’s a remarkable operation that combines frugality with generosity. At the heart of it all is the relationship the charity has with B.C. hotels that, instead of sending half-full and gently used items to the dump, divert them to an organization that can put them to good use.

All those little hotel-sized bottles of shampoo, conditioner, lotion, body wash and whatnot that you leave in your room? They go to Soap for Hope ­Canada, where volunteers pour them into larger empty ­containers donated by the ­public. (“We buy no ­packaging,” McIntyre notes) before ­forwarding them on to hundreds of other organizations, including 97 in Greater Victoria.

Seniors get their soap in easy-to-squeeze containers. Families get somewhat larger ones. A bulk-user like Our Place might get a four-litre jug.

It’s not just soap that gets ­collected. Anything a hotel needs to get rid of that has a usable life can be donated. Linen, ­bathrobes, furniture, half rolls of toilet paper, whatever. ­Mattresses are the only item they refuse. “I want us to be something that the hotels can’t say no to,” ­McIntyre says. One day, 2,400 pillows arrived from a single hotel.

Linen is stacked high in the warehouse. When floods and wildfires chase B.C. families to evacuation centres, the sheets they sleep in come from William Street.

Even last month, the charity was still outfitting Camp Hope, a church retreat that morphed into a shelter for people displaced by the fire that razed Lytton in 2021. These days, lots of bedding goes to Ukrainian refugees moving into their own apartments.

Soap for Hope gets unclaimed items when hotels empty their lost-and-found stashes, too. On this day, 100 pounds worth have arrived from Tofino — clothing mostly, including a Kenneth Cole black leather jacket. It will go to the building’s upstairs thrift store, Second Hand Hope, which is open 9-4, Monday to Friday.

One third of what gets distributed by Soap for Hope is new, thanks in part to other charities and donations from the public.

A shipment of 5,000 toothbrushes from the Calgary-based Tooth Fairy Children’s Foundation just came in. Feminine hygiene products arrive and are distributed on behalf of the United Way. Corporate benefactors help, too: Diamond Delivery and ACE Courier ship goods for free, bless ’em.

McIntyre would welcome more donors and volunteers. People can drop off new or partly used hygiene items or linens —particularly towels and blankets — as well as empty shampoo/conditioner/body wash/body lotion bottles.

The Times Colonist Christmas Fund, which has funnelled grants to more than 40 Vancouver Island charities this year, is happy to take contributions, too. So far, it has collected $615,078.40 in donations from 2,256 donors. The fundraising goal for the campaign, which began Nov. 12, is $1 million.

How to donate to the Times Colonist Christmas Fund

• Go to timescolonist.com/donate, which will take you to our CanadaHelps page. The site is open 24 hours a day and provides an immediate tax receipt.

• Mail a cheque to the Times ­Colonist Christmas Fund, 201‑655 Tyee Rd., Victoria, B.C. V9A 6X5.

• Use your credit card by phoning 250-995-4438 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday.

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