The Pictou County Christmas Fund and the Pictou County Food Bank are hoping the community will help them pivot in the face of a global health pandemic.
Earlier this month the volunteer members of the Christmas Fund board announced the 46th annual Pictou County Christmas Fund telethon, which had been scheduled for Nov. 28 this year, would have to be postponed due to COVID-19. Recognizing there is still a need for the good work the Board does through generous donations from the community, PCCF members regrouped and came up with an alternate plan.
Instead of the usual telethon a virtual fundraiser will be held, very similar to the Ultimate Online Nova Scotia Kitchen Party, on the Pictou County Christmas Fund’s Facebook site. Performers will post videos and funds will be raised through pledges, just like the live telethon, but donors will click on a link on the Facebook page to a donation site where they can make their pledge. The online event will begin Nov. 12, the day after Remembrance Day, and continue for a month.
The format is new, but necessary due to the global health pandemic.
PCCF chair Debbie Van Sickle says, “It takes literally hundreds of volunteers to enable the telethon to be held and families to register for assistance. And we don’t want to put anyone at risk.”
It is volunteers with the food bank who look after registering the families for the gift cards, and it is food bank volunteers who look after distributing the cards to the families.
Lia LeClair, a volunteer with the Pictou County Food Bank (East) said, “The pandemic has caused such a major disruption for the registration and distribution which results in a lack of volunteers and facility space to register more than one thousand people. Physically, we can’t do it.”
Summer Street in New Glasgow and First Presbyterian Church Hall in Pictou were always used as places for people to register. With more than 1,000 people registering over a three-day period for four hours a day, Public Health guidelines surrounding physical distancing and limits on the numbers of people who can socially gather mean it wouldn’t be possible to hold registration and distribute grocery cards while also ensuring the safety of volunteers and community members.
“There is simply no way it can be done,” LeClair says.
Food bank volunteers have expressed concern for their safety, LeClair says adding, “Most of those volunteers are seniors.”
Van Sickle says, “Registration and distribution are key to being able to hold the telethon. Because we are unable to hold it we are donating all of the funds to the food bank because we want to make sure that anyone needing food at Christmas time receives it.”
So, keeping everyone’s safety in mind — that of the food banks’ volunteers, Christmas Fund board members, entertainers and all of the others who turn up at the deCoste Performing Arts Centre year after year to help make sure the event is a success — the decision was made to revamp the event.
But fundraising is still taking place with the online month-long event. All funds raised will be turned over to the food bank which, in turn, will ensure those who need it get food during the holidays.
“We rely on donations from the public and the people of Pictou County have always been awesome in donating,” LeClair praises.
“Anyone who needs help with food during the Christmas season or anytime can just phone us at 902-755-2906. (The Pictou County Food Bank East) open from 8:30 a.m. until 11:30 a.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.”
LeClair says with COVID-19, CERB ending, school starting up again and an increase in unemployment the food bank is beginning to feel the pressure. “It’s getting busier for sure.”
“We are a dedicated group of volunteers who are committed to helping people through the PCCF and although it’ll look a little different this year we’re going to try our best to raise enough donations to send to the food bank to help Pictou County. We hope people will continue to support us like they have in the past, says Van Sickle.”
Those who are able to donate to make Christmas a little bit brighter for county residents who need a little help are still able to make a monetary donation at the office of The Advocate newspaper, 21 George St., Pictou, as well as at any bank in Pictou County or the Credit Union in New Glasgow or the office of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Pictou County at 323 MacGregor St., New Glasgow. These donations can be made at any time before the online campaign begins or during the four weeks of the campaign.
The telethon has been running since the mid-1970s. It has become an annual tradition, always with the focus of helping those in need.
Pictou County Food Bank (East) volunteers Debi Wadden and Freda Hepditch are ready to assist. (Submitted photo)