Although she is getting a later start than usual, Edna Dow is just as excited as ever for this year’s Secret Santa toy and food drive.
“I was getting calls and messages, people saying they hadn’t seen anything in the paper or on the radio, nothing, and was I doing it this year,” she told The Hub last week. “Well, I’m excited because the community wants this to happen.”
For more than 20 years, Dow has organized Secret Santa hampers for needy families in the community. She relies on corporate and individual donations of clothes, food and toys. As of last Friday, there were 92 families on the list.
“It’s about charity with dignity,” she said, telling the story of two families in a previous year whose paychecks from the mine failed to come through. They were families with teenagers and struggling to make ends meet for the Christmas season, but didn’t want to accept help. In the end, their neighbour called Dow and explained the situation, and Dow made sure there were hampers for those two families that Christmas. She said the next year, she received two $500 anonymous donations.
“Most people don’t want any recognition for what they give,” said Dow. “People want to help, to do good, but not make a big deal of it.”
Dow has run Secret Santa out of a variety of locations since she started, including freezing storage units and her own house. This year, she is set up in the vacant True Value space in the Wright Centre.
“When was the last time we had a nice, big space like this?” asked Tatelena Dow, Edna’s daughter and perennial helper for the program. “Never. This is perfect. It’s right downtown and really accessible.”
Tatelena said she and her mother understand that work schedules vary and it can be difficult to organize donations, but also said the new location should make things easier, particularly for those who may have mobility issues.
“We know people are busy,” she said. “Call the cell number at whatever hour and we’ll arrange to be here and make it work.”
Edna said that apart from turkeys, toys and oranges, she would like to see donations of wrapping paper. While the drive does receive some money, she said she would much rather spend it on gifts and food, as opposed to things to wrap them in.
“I know it’s late this year, but I also know Hay River will do what it does best and pull together to make this a merry Christmas for everyone,” she said. “The support from businesses and just regular people has been enormous every year, and I believe it will happen this year too.”
Secret Santa began years ago when Edna and her son Vincent would go to all the houses in Disneyland, a collection of houses across from the medical clinic, to distribute hampers of food on Christmas Eve near their home. Vincent passed away this last year, but his sister and mother are determined to carry on in his memory.
“This is the first year we’re doing it without him,” said Tatelena. “It’s different, but we’re continuing the tradition for him.”
Both Edna and Tatelena, however, are pleased to see Secret Santa being passed on to a new generation. Edna said many people bring their own children to help out, even if it’s just for half an hour, when they drop off donations.
“Our whole family gets involved too,” said Tatelena. “All the kids look forward to it and come out to help. It shows them it’s good to give.”