A few days ago, as the doors of the Surrey Christmas Bureau opened at 10 a.m., coordinator K.C. Gilroy asked a woman how long she’d been waiting.
Since 5:15 a.m., she answered.
The mother thought there would be a lineup at the new toy depot in North Surrey.
It was a bit of an overreach – and Gilroy has told others that coming at 9:30 a.m. or so is a better idea – but the sentiment was there: People want help at Christmas.
From Nov. 8-22, more than 900 had already registered with the bureau, with up to 1,700 expected by the time sign-ups are complete Dec. 2.
Surrey families with kids and financial hardship are in luck, as the bureau has the volunteers, loads of toy and gift card donations (though more are welcome) and the space.
This year, the bureau’s toy depot is located at a former Sears (and The Brick) outlet at 13583 104 Ave. – more than 30,000 square feet of floor space, rent free, courtesy of Bosa Properties.
Inside, Chrystal McCarthy, 29, waits in the lobby for an interview at the registration desk with her six-month-old, Calin.
McCarthy has been a client since 2011 when her daughter Ariana, now 5, was born.
Each year, she says she’s been grateful to be matched with a sponsor in the Adopt-A-Family program, where 600 client families get toys, gift cards and Christmas dinner delivered directly by a sponsor – a business, family or individual.
The single mom says she comes to the bureau “because I’m poor – because I can’t afford Christmas because it’s expensive.”
Another visitor is Lwabanya Byaombe, who arrived with settlement worker Zipporah Sanya, his unofficial interpreter from the Welcome Centre at the Surrey School District.
Byaombe, a father of four, speaks only Swahili and a sprinkling of French.
He arrived in Canada from Tanzania on Oct. 11, and he’s already getting a warm welcome at the toy depot.
“We work with people who come from many parts of the world,” says Gilroy, who acknowledges that this year, many of the new clients are from Syria.
Gilroy says that about two-thirds of clients are on income assistance; the rest have part-time jobs or need help making ends meet.
“We do our part,” she adds casually.
Making their season brighter are some 120 volunteers who work with registration and sorting of toys and clothes.
“These are my elves,” says red-hatted Margaret Lloyd, a retired Wal-Mart cashier and de facto head of the children’s section, pointing to Mildred and Chantelle Thomas, a mother-and-daughter pair of volunteers working nearby.
“It’s fun – I enjoy helping people,” says Lloyd, who is volunteering for a seventh year.
Volunteers will gather and sort donations until Dec. 5 or so, after which families will return to pick up their care packages at pre-arranged dates up to a few days before Christmas.
Many of the kids will get bikes some of which are stored in a back room.
They’re what Gilroy calls “just the tip of the iceberg” – another 100-200 bikes have been promised by Dominion Lending Centres and REC for Kids Society, a sports equipment charity in Newton.
The public is welcome to visit the open house, which takes place Dec. 3 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
For more information about the Surrey Christmas Bureau, visit http://christmasbureau.com/