While many Surrey residents are enjoying time with family in the warm comfort of their homes on Christmas Day, a growing group of volunteers will hit the streets to make the holiday a little brighter for those who are less fortunate.
The event is dubbed the “Whalley Santa Cause” and involves a legion of volunteers descending into the toughest zone in Surrey to hand out hampers to those who need them most.
This year, the team will hit the streets with hampers from 1 to 3 p.m. on Christmas Day.
Hampers will be packed full of toiletries, winter clothing and other essential items to help the community’s most vulnerable.
But event founder Erica Beckstead is still in search of donations — and volunteers — for this year’s outing.
While about 50 people came out to help last Christmas, handing out 500 hampers, the number of helpers and hampers are far shy of that as of mid-December.
Beckstead is in need of new personal hygiene items such as deodorant, tooth brushes, shampoo, conditioner, hair brushes, socks, and so on. Gently used sweaters, scarves and gloves are also needed.
She urged those with donations to get in touch soon, as the need is great on Surrey streets.
“The reason why I started it is I’m a former drug addict,” explained Beckstead, who founded the charity in 2011.
“I used to be one of these people. I’m 10 years sober,” she said, standing next to tent city on 135A Street, unloading blankets from her car to hand out on a cold December afternoon.
“I didn’t live in tents on the street but I was very close. I used to live out of a suitcase and I lived on King George and I’ve done a full circle. I’ve totally changed my life around with the help of strangers.”
It’s why she pays it forward to others.
Beckstead said she hit bottom in 2007, when she was “kidnapped and almost raped” in pursuit of more drugs. After that, she said she cleaned up her act and accepted a job with Club Med in Florida, where she says she detoxed.
As part of the Club Med gig, she found herself staying in some rather posh hotels, and realized she’d collected a few too many toiletries from a few too many luxury washrooms. It seemed like a good idea to give them away back home in Whalley.
“One day I thought, what am I going to do with all this soap?” Beckstead said. “That’s when I came to the realization of giving back to my community. I wanted to make a small difference in the lives of others. So I started wrapping all my hotel toiletries into beautifully wrapped Christmas hampers and I only had only a few volunteers (in 2011).”
The fentanyl epidemic that has claimed more than 1,000 lives in B.C. so far this year only motivates Beckstead more.
“A huge number of homeless and drug addicted people are living on the streets or in a shelter, or some find treatment in our recovery homes,” she said. “So there is a huge need for helping people.”
An average of 15 people have died of overdose each month in Surrey in 2017.
“This community needs our help in so many ways,” she added.
Asked what keeps her coming back to 135A Street, year after year, Beckstead replied, “this keeps me sober.”
“It keeps me grateful for the things I do have,” she smiled.
“It’s very cold outside and they need help. They’re very kind, they appreciate the help. They really, really do.”
To get involved, or to donate, call Beckstead at 778-233-4344, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit whalleysantacause.yolasite.com.