Community ready to Deck Their Halls

By: Tammy Rollie

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Nov 27, 2013 08:33 am

Geneva Lewis organizes her basement full of donated Christmas decorations for the Deck Their Halls program. The donations will be given to residents who lost their decorations during June's flood.
Geneva Lewis organizes her basement full of donated Christmas decorations for the Deck Their Halls program. The donations will be given to residents who lost their decorations during June's flood.
Jordan Verlage/OWW

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When a former Okotokian learned her High River friend isn’t as stoked about Christmas as she is, she got to work immediately.

Foothills School Division guest teacher Geneva Lewis, of Calgary, figures her friend is one of hundreds not excited about the upcoming Christmas season after so many lost their possessions and homes in floods that hit southern Alberta last June.

“I was driving home and a little thought came into my mind that maybe I could do some kind of donation drive for decorations,” she said. “I thought I gotta see what I can do to help.”

With help from her husband, Lewis created a website and Facebook account last month and started to get the word out about her Deck Their Halls initiative to collect new and gently used Christmas decorations for individuals and families who lost theirs in the flood.

“People have been contacting me every single day and finding out where they can donate,” she said. “It’s just been incredible. I think everybody in Calgary and area wants to do something to help the people who were affected by the flooding.”

With so many southern Albertans still without homes and awaiting financial assistance from insurance companies or the Province, Lewis said she suspects replacing Christmas decorations is not a top priority.

“I knew it was something that people probably wouldn’t be able to afford this year,” she said. “I want to reach as many families as I can to hopefully make their Christmas a bit merrier and less of a burden. I doubt people have a budget to replace their Christmas stuff this year.”

When Okotokian Andrea Wilton-Clark learned of Lewis’ initiative, she and 11 of her friends, who get together monthly to play Bunko, agreed to help out.

“We needed to get the word out that there is this need for decorations,” she said. “There are many other families like me who have a surplus of decorations or can buy a box of new decorations… it’s such a tangible way for us to get involved, family to family.”

In just one week, Wilton-Clark and her friends contacted various business people, organizations and individuals to help deliver the items to High River, print signs to mark donation sites, organize and set up the Christmas decorations and spread the word. They even convinced schools to get involved with collecting items and spreading the word to families.

“I’ve been awed at the community and business support that’s come alongside to push it forward,” she said.

Wilton-Clark said it’s hard to imagine how much these families lost in the flood.

“The ornaments and decorations that these families have lost, they’re all of symbolic value,” she said. “Either it’s a piece that’s been passed down by family to family or are pieces that are made by their children. It’s impossible to replace the memories.”

Wilton-Clark said Deck Their Halls is a perfect opportunity to create new memories.

“There is an inherent value in knowing you are cared for by the community at large,” she said. “That in itself creates new memories.”

For the last five weeks Christmas trees, wreaths, garland, tree skirts, outdoor decorations, lights, ornaments, stockings, candles and knickknacks have been collected at various locations throughout the foothills, including Light Up Okotoks last week, and stored in Lewis’ basement.

She is inviting those affected by the flood from Calgary, Turner Valley, Black Diamond, High River and other southern Alberta communities to Spitzee Elementary School on Nov. 30 from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. to walk through and pick the decorations they need at no cost. Lewis said identification will be checked to ensure they are coming from an effected area.

“I think a lot of people already had the idea, I just happened to be at a point right now where I’ve had the time and ability to do this,” she said. “I love Christmas time. It’s just one of my favourite times of the year.”

For more information about Deck Their Halls or to volunteer go to www.decktheirhalls.com


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