Nampa /Northern Sunrise County Family and Community Support Services is hoping to spread a little Christmas cheer to people in need this holiday season.

Director of Community Services Amber Houle says they are bringing back the Christmas Gift Card Program, with the hopes of helping families who are struggling through the financially heavy time of year.

“The Christmas Gift Card Program provides families and individuals in need with financial support during the holidays,” says Houle.

“With the rising cost of food and utilities, more and more families and individuals are feeling the pinch. The Christmas Gift Card programs allows individuals and families to receive extra cash in their hands so that they can have a special holiday without the burden of going into or adding to their debt loads,” she adds.

“Houle says the program is completely anonymous and those who receive gift cards get them in the mail with a Christmas Card. FCSS will accept both donated gift cards, as well as cash from those wishing to help those in need.

“For those wishing to donate a gift card in lieu of cash, we do ask that they donate in increments of $25, as it is easier to bundle,” Houle explains.

“The amount of money dispersed to individuals and families depends on how many donations are received. It is easier to provide more cards, at a lesser value, than try and separate a $100 gift card to make things fair for everyone.”

She says in 2018 the program assisted 37 individuals and families, but the number is rising.

In 2022, the program was utilized by 71 individuals and families. She attributes this largely to the rising costs in food and utilities and she anticipates the need in 2023 will be similar or higher to what it was last year.

“Nampa/Northern Sunrise County FCSS previously coordinated a Christmas Hamper program, where nominated individuals received a box full of items to host their Christmas dinner,” Houle says.

“Recognizing that not everyone has the same food preferences, cultural practices, or dietary needs, Nampa/Northern Sunrise County FCSS decided to move to a gift card format to support autonomy and to ensure that people received items that would best support their family’s needs.”

Houle says FCSS does not need income specifics in order for families to receive assistance, instead the program works on an honour system.

“If a person feels they need assistance, we honour it,” says Houle. “Our staff will contact each person nominated, to have a brief conversation around their needs, and in addition to the Christmas Gift Card program, they will attempt to link them to additional services as needed.

“The reason we chose not to have set eligibility requirements is sometimes circumstances change mid-year and just because their income tax from the previous year says they make a certain amount, doesn’t necessary means that they are in the same position.”

Houle says there have been cases brought forward where a person has lost their job, they are navigating a divorce, struggling with addictions, or suffered an injury which prevents them from working, all reasons she says they’ve decided to move to the honour system.

“We accept donations and nominations for the Christmas Gift Card Program annually, between the first working day in October and the second Friday of December,” Houle says.

“The gift cards are dispersed the third week in December so that individuals and families have additional supports for the holidays,” she adds. “With the donations we receive, we purchase gift cards from Co-op so that individuals can choose to purchase either groceries for their families or gas to be able to get to and from work or appointments.”

Houle says if you or someone you know needs a little extra help this holiday season, please contact her at (780) 625-3287 or ahoule@northern You can also nominate someone who needs assistance by visiting the Northern Sunrise County website.

By Emily Plihal, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Nov 01, 2023 at 10:45

This item reprinted with permission from   South Peace News   High Prairie, Alberta

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