By the end of Saturday afternoon, Yolanda Bailey had two full garbage bags full of gifts, Christmas ornaments, and winter items for her family plus a children’s table to haul home.
“There’s a ton of stuff. That whole bag is mine,” she said pointing at her haul.
Bailey is one of hundreds of families from Calgary and area whose child was invited to the 28th Annual OLQP Children’s Christmas party, hosted by Our Lady Queen of Peace Ranch (South Alberta) Ltd.
The event was a day for low-income children to have a Christmas experience that they might not otherwise get.
Each of the 1,100 registered children received transportation to the ranch near Bragg Creek, photos with Santa, a gift and new winter gear including hat, gloves, and winter jacket – all free of charge.
There was also a warm lunch, popcorn and cotton-candy to be had and a “free store” where parents and children could select other items they may be in need of, which is where Bailey got the table from.
“He’s just having a great time, he got to pick whatever he wanted,” Bailey said of her son, who was invited through a school program – Calgary Urban Projects Society (CUPS).
Parent Nicole Lavallee also expressed her gratitude for having this opportunity for her children.
“Right now, it’s really hard. I’m a single mother of three and it’s the struggling month, right?”
While some children tore into their gifts right away, it’s up to the parents when the gifts are opened – a point, which Lavallee jokes about.
“They’re mad at me because I won’t let them open it ‘til Christmas,” she said with a laugh referring to her own kids.
The event was made possible by close to 400 volunteers and 40 buses that brought the kids and their parent or guardian to the ranch.
Rainer Dalton, one of the event volunteers who signed up through St. Mary’s University in Calgary, said he has been participating each year throughout his psychology degree program.
“I like Christmas, I like to help people,” he said, adding that the festivities reminded him of his childhood.
“Some of these families are refugees, under privileged kids, stuff like that. I can only imagine, because I didn’t grow up like that,” Dalton said.
“I want to give them a piece of what I grew up with.”
Katie Pierard, program manager at OLQP South Ranch, said the ranch works hard to fundraise each year to make the event happen.
“We couldn’t do it without our great donors and supporters. Our charity relies completely on donations and we really rely on the community for support,” Pierard said.
“It’s really the community coming together to support community.”