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Ray Braddock has been volunteering with the Salvation Army’s Christmas Drive for more than 50 years.
The Salvation Army is busy year-round helping those in need, but at Christmas time, the organization makes sure there’s a toy for every girl and boy along with a special dinner to keep them happy and healthy. Maj. Ray Braddock, 72, is in charge of the East Toronto Citadel’s “hamper” drive — now called the Christmas Assistance Program—that provides hundreds of families with all the necessary ingredients to make the holiday season special. He sat down with The Star to explain what the drive means to the community.
Q: How long have you been involved with the campaign?
A: Well, I’m not sure of the exact dates or times but I can remember delivering when I was still a student and that would have to be at least 50 years ago. We’d have a turkey for everyone, vegetables and a basic supply of food that would make a nice dinner and provide some leftovers. If I recall correctly, we’d even pack in a Christmas cake for dessert. And, of course, there would be an assortment of toys for the kids. That was very important. And, yes, it is a busy time with a lot of volunteers, planning and lists. A lot of energy goes into all the details.
Q: Who’s typically on the receiving end of the food and toys these days?
A: There are a lot of unemployed or underemployed people who just have a hard time making ends meet this time of year. We have single-parent families who are doing their best but just need that extra bit of help. Some of these men and women also need the services of a food bank during the rest of the year. And, yes, there are some people that really don’t have anything at all.
Q: What would someone expect to find in an assistance package?
A: Things have changed over the years. We still have a lot of tinned food and fresh produce but we deal with a lot of gift certificates that make it a lot easier for the people to buy food they want. Why give people something they might not enjoy? We don’t provide turkeys because, again, not everyone wants turkey. As well, it would be impossible for us to personally deliver the goods like we used to, so people come to us. Toys are picked from three separate categories: big, small and stocking stuffers. Again, this allows parents to pick toys they know their child will like.
Q: How do you come up with so many items for so many people?
A: That’s where the general public, corporations and even the schools come in. We couldn’t do it without the support of all the people who donate the goods as well as their time. There’s the Toy Mountain appeal that collects thousands of new, donated toys and food drives from all the schools. Students get really involved in this on all levels. We even have a girl’s hockey team from Leaside that gets into it. It’s wonderful.
Q: What are your personal feelings on being part of the campaign?
A: I love it. Everyone involved loves it. There are people who work 12 hour days on this project and they do it because they know it will bring a smile to someone come Christmas Day. It’s a magical time of year and the Salvation Army is there to help. It doesn’t even matter what your religion is. We just want to make a difference.
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