Christmas Bureau angels spread generosity

For years, Sylvan Lake Christmas Bureau’s paper angels have delivered gifts to those in need.

For years, Sylvan Lake Christmas Bureau’s paper angels have delivered gifts to those in need.

The bureau, run by Anna Orsten and her sisters Barb Watson and Angie Smith, collects new toys, clothes, and cash to distribute to families unable to purchase everything themselves.

“Just make sure that everybody has a Merry Christmas, that’s what we do,” said Orsten. “Somebody has to, these people need help and these kids need to have a Christmas.”

Those applying for the program fill out a registration form, while the bureau writes a paper angel with each child’s desired gift, and hangs it on a tree in Sylvan Lake Dairy Queen. Those interested may take an angel and donate the gift listed.

The bureau uses donated money to purchase gifts for any unclaimed angels, in addition to movies, games, chocolates, and No Frills gift certificates for every family who applied to the program.

The charity partners with other organizations, collecting toys from the RCMP charity checkstop and Sylvan Lake schools.

They also send teen wish lists to École H. J. Cody School. The school’s Coins for Kids program raises money to purchase Christmas gifts, so older recipients are receiving a gift chosen by someone their own age.

The bureau receives contributions from women at the Memorial Presbyterian Church, who donate gifts for needy mothers.

The program originally began in the 1980s, and was run by the I.O.D.E. (Imperial Order of the Daughters of the Empire), a national charitable organization.

For the past 10 years, Orsten and her sisters have coordinated the bureau.

“This is sort of our free time,” said Orsten.

The charity has grown steadily through the years. It was run out of a house, said Orsten, but a bigger space was needed. Its headquarters is now an empty, unfinished space in the same building as Scotiabank.

The bureau’s applicants have also increased every year, said Orsten, with 89 families receiving gifts last year, twice as many as in 2000. This year’s applicant numbers are not yet known.

“It seems either you’re doing really well or you’re not. But the people who are doing well are really generous in sharing,” said Orsten. “I think people are a lot more generous now. We’re able to help a lot of people with a lot of things.”

Those wishing to donate may drop off their gifts at toy boxes in Sylvan Lake Value Drug Mart, Sobeys, Canadian Tire, Great Canadian Dollar Store, Domino’s Pizza, and Quiznos. Those making a cash donation may deposit it in the bureau’s bank account at Servus Credit Union.

Orsten said they are particularly looking for boy and teen gifts, in addition to smaller items suitable for stocking stuffers.

The bureau prefers to receive donations up to a week before Dec. 21, when they will be picked up. Any late donations will be stored until next year.

“The thing that is the most touching is when the families come and pick up their bags of toys and things, they are so grateful and so relieved. It makes me feel good,” said Orsten.

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