Salvation Army Family Services staff and a host of volunteers are busy working flat out to meet an increased demand for food hampers and toys for children for Christmas.

Distribution days begin on December 18 at a different venue this year due to damage caused by Hurricane Gonsalvo to the roof of the commercial JJ Outerbridge Building. That coupled with the mass distribution problems incurred last year, has prompted a number of changes this year.

You may recall accounts from last year that saw senior citizens literally pushed out of the way by desperate families seeking assistance. This year, senior citizens will have a distribution day all on their own to avoid the problems they incurred last year.

The food and toys will also be distributed from the Slat House this year instead of the JJ Outerbridge Building.

And despite improvements in Bermuda’s economy over the past year, according to the numbers seeking help it is clear that Bermudians by the thousands are still reeling from the effects of continued unemployment in Bermuda.

A spokesperson confirmed applications are up substantially in all categories. This year the Salvation Army will assist more than 3,000 families in need, with another 200 senior citizens who have applied for help.

Volunteers have been working flat out in preparation for this year’s distribution days since November 1, 2014. Volunteers include Patricia Burchall, Lois Maybury and Sharon Pearman who help decorate the buildings every year.

This reporter also volunteered for a fourth consecutive year, stacking food supplies that end up packed in the countless hampers for distribution. Both administrators, Kelli Edwards and Leanne Hollis who have been booking requests for help for the past two months agreed that the numbers are definitely up this year, although the final tally has yet to be made.

“All the numbers are up while toys and donation are down substantially this year,” said Ms Edwards. “Some donors seem to be taking care of other charities which is understandable based on the heavy demand,” she added.

General Manager of Family Services Lynn Gordon extended a special thank you to the Parks Department’s Exhibition Organizer Georgette Caines. “She worked tirelessly to make sure we had a venue this year after our usual location was severely damaged by the hurricane,” she said.

She also extended a warm thank you to three Parks Department employees, who volunteer every year, by assisting the Salvation Army at the Botanical Gardens venue during their lunch hours. They are Malcolm Gilbert, Neville Richardson and Amde Martin, also known as the ‘Tree and Fruit Scientist’ affectionately referred to as ‘Lynn’s personal goofer’. She also thanked the army’s full-time chef at Harbour Light, Ms Donna Harvey for making sure staff and volunteers working around the clock do not go without something to eat.

The Salvation Army has held an annual Christmas Food and Toy Drive in Bermuda for the past 30 years or more. And while they have a new Commanding Officer who has yet to introduce himself to the local media – it was painfully clear that his predecessor Major Shawn Critch was truly a major miss this year.

Merry Christmas Major Critch – all the best to you and yours in Winnepeg, Canada in the new year!

By Ceola Wilson