This story was posted in St. Catharines Standard, 12/19/08, by Grant LaFleche, Standard Staff.

Bertha Power tries not to cry. There are enough waterworks around Community Care of St. Catharines and Thorold this time of year without her contributing to it.

“I do the big hugs, though,” she said. “I’m OK with those.”

But some days it’s hard not to get emotional. Power volunteers with the food bank’s adopt-a-family program, which sees local residents and businesses sponsor families for the holidays, providing them with presents, food and other items for Christmas.

Power acts as the link between the sponsors, who always remain anonymous, and the families. She is often there when the families come in to pick up the gifts the sponsors have left for them.

And that is when the tears flow.

“I had one lady come in and saw a pink tricycle and she just lost it,” Power said. “She said, ‘Oh my God, a pink tricycle. That is all my daughter wanted.’ ”

The program sponsors 250 local families struggling to make ends meet, let alone indulge in holiday spending. Power said they are chosen by the intake workers who register families for Community Care’s annual Christmas program.

“These are people in exceptional circumstances,” said Community Care CEO Betty-Lou Souter.

Although the adopt-a-family program is finished for this year, the need in the community continues to grow.

Souter said there are 377 more families registered for help than at this time last year and the demand is expected to continue to climb.

She said some of those registering are people who donated last year, but have recently lost their jobs and need help.

However, despite bad economic times, St. Catharines residents are coming through for the food bank.

Souter said people with means are giving a little more this year because they are aware that so many in the community are hurting.

Community Care needs to raise about $300,000 for its Christmas program — which provides food and toys for families — and to see it through into the new year. Souter said so far the food bank has raised about two-thirds of that total.

“This is the week,” Souter said of the remaining days before Christmas. “There isn’t a lot of time left. This is when we make it or we don’t.”

Souter said there have been some unexpected acts of charity from the community.

On Thursday afternoon, for example, the Canadian Tire store on Welland Avenue dropped off Christmas trees for Community Care clients.

“I have people literally crying because they have never been able to afford a Christmas tree before,” Souter said. “It’s sometimes these little things that really impact people.”

While donations are coming in, Community Care is dealing with some clothing shortages, particularly winter boots for men.

Donations can be made to Community Care at 12 North St., by calling 905-685-1349 or by going online to www.communitycarestca.ca.

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