With its support for local families and 40 other bureaus and agencies, the Lower Mainland Christmas Bureau is a lynchpin in the city’s holiday charity efforts.
Two years of COVID restrictions changed the way the Christmas bureau conducted business, but at least the non-profit has come out of the pandemic with new digs.
The new building on Cordova Street is 10,000 square feet and “a real warehouse, with loading bays and a small parking lot,” says Chris Bayliss, the Lower Mainland Christmas Bureau’s executive director. The organization occupied nearly 8,500 square feet on two different floors in its previous building, on Pandora Street. Prior to that, it was housed in 3,500 square feet on Napier Street. Bayliss himself has been with the nonprofit since 1990, when he started out as a volunteer.
Today, the bureau supports an average of 1,000 families each year and co-ordinates with other charities to distribute more than 145,000 items. The bureau also gifts nearly $80,000 in grocery gift cards to families in need yearly.
“For certain families to find us, we needed a permanent location,” says Bayliss. He expects to be in the current location until at least the end of its five-year lease, and perhaps longer. He notes the generosity of the bureau’s previous landlord, Leon Menkis, who passed away in the summer.
“Our thought was we couldn’t afford Vancouver, but we found this place so it saves us having to set up and tear down every year, and also year-round donors can find us because we’ve always been in Vancouver. Our reach is so much larger now.”
Due to COVID protocols, the bureau stopped bringing in volunteers for the last two years. Bayliss and his staff worked behind plexiglass and wore their personal protective equipment.
“So the families got their help. But it was all appointment-based in a very sterile environment. Not only our bureau but all the bureaus and agencies struggled through that.”
For this holiday season, the bureau is again limiting the number of people on site and asking people to register for appointments (families can sign up at lmcb/ca).
Besides losing “that volunteer dynamic and human touch,” many of the bureau’s major fundraising efforts and toy drives had to be cancelled, at least one permanently.
“The Motorcycle Toy Run went away, and will not be returning in its traditional form,” he says. Logistically, it proved just too difficult to continue.
“Once COVID stopped it from occurring for two years, the timeline to put it together was not only short, but also required a large amount of staff resources,” says Bayliss, a Harley enthusiast himself. “The fact that toy and monetary donations had been diminishing for a number of years, as had the number of riders, made the decision to go from a toy run to a toy drop seem like the logical choice.”
As of this writing, the Motorcycle Toy Drop Drive-Thru and a Kruise 4 Kids toy drop have taken place. Other returning events that will bring toys and donations to the bureau include the Lower Mainland 4×4 Toy Run, the Christmas Wish Breakfast at the Pan Pacific, CTV’s Toy Mountain at Guildford Town Centre, the Vancouver Giants Teddy Bear Toss and TransLink’s Reindeer Bus and Toys for Tots.
Most of the other bureaus are returning to “the pre-pandemic way of doing things,” says Bayliss. “There’s a pent-up demand to do more at Christmas time from our donors and our volunteers’ perspective, but none of us know exactly what it’s going to look like this year. But our way of distributing toys will be very much like our previous way of doing things.”
The Lower Mainland Christmas Bureau’s appointments for needy families have doubled from last year at the same time, he says.
“Everything looks promising right now. I’m cautiously optimistic that our donors will step up like they always do. Every family comes to the door that is qualified, we’ll take care of them. Like we always do.”
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