THUNDER BAY -- At 97, Elsie Koivisto was still busy as ever Wednesday with three jobs.
In the morning she was handing out toys. In the afternoon she put together hampers before an evening at the registration desk as the 2012 Christmas Cheer drive wrapped up.
“I feel I’m doing a little bit. Not a lot, but a little bit,” she said as hundreds of volunteers hurried about the CLE Coliseum.
In her dozen years as a volunteer, Kovisto is used to seeing a crowd of people outside in the evening waiting to pick up their Christmas hampers. But this year in particular, she saw a lot more.
“I was amazed when I came in today at 9 o’clock the amount of people that were standing outside,” she said.
And the numbers agree.
Christmas Cheer chair Linda Gambee said they served 4,500 people on Tuesday, which is unheard of. After Wednesday evening, she figures more than 7,000 people will be fed through the campaign. While need is up though, donations were down.
“We know that we’re not going to have enough in about four or five categories so we’ve had to order more,” Gambee said.
“We probably won’t have any food left at the end of the night.”
Then there are the people who won’t get hampers at all. Gambee doesn’t know how many people will be turned away but it’s a lot.
“I can tell you it’s a huge amount,” she said.
While families on Ontario Works or disability automatically qualify for a hamper, an increasing number of working poor are requesting food every year Gambee said.
Koivisto said she’s fortunate to have a good life but she gets a sick feeling knowing how many people are in need.
“I’ve lived 97 years and I don’t know whether things are getting worse or they’re getting better,” she said.
This will be the second year in a row the campaign has run a deficit. The Christmas cheer committee will meet in January to discuss what they can do to address the shortfall, including attracting larger corporate donors.
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