Volunteer organization relies on Christmas ‘angels’ to provide services to community

NANAIMO – Angel donors flood Volunteer Nanaimo with Christmas spirit.

Rita Innamorati, who works with the Christmas Angel program at Volunteer Nanaimo, has been crying tears of joy in the days leading up to Christmas.

“We’ve been so busy with our Angel program it’s just been nuts,” Innamorati said.

The Christmas Angel program is just one of numerous donation and volunteer programs Volunteer Nanaimo operates, seasonally and throughout the year.

‘Angels’ are individuals or companies that are paired with local families facing economic hardship and are struggling through the Christmas season.

“We give [angels] a list of stuff and then they pick from the list and go and buy a gift for each of the children and they can do the parents if they want, maybe do a little bit of a food hamper,” Innamorati said.

More than 300 families were paired with angels this year. Recipient families are vetted by Volunteer Nanaimo, with help from social agencies the families are working with, to verify need. Some of the stories behind the requests can tug at heart strings, such as a small boy who said he didn’t have a wish list this Christmas because he knew his mother had no money to buy presents.

The program started in November and ran until Dec. 17. Requests came in from social agencies right up until the program’s final hour and included two last-minute families, one with four children and another with five children, that had little chance of being paired with angels.

“It’s been amazing,” Innamorati said. “I was just sitting here, not knowing what to do and at 4:31 [p.m.] the phone rang.”

Innamorati picked up the phone, even though it came in after closing time, in hopes it was an angel.

“And it was,” she said. “I just burst into tears.”

Spur of the moment support also came from local merchants who give unexpected breaks at the cash register, such as sporting goods store that heavily discounted a skateboard, making the total sale equal to the value of a gift card Innamorati presented, allowing her to include a bonus matching hoodie in a present for an 11-year-old boy. It was one of several examples of charitable acts she encountered dealing with local retailers and grocers.

Innamorati said one reason for such positive response is that local programs such as Christmas Angels allow people to be directly involved in deciding where and how their donations are used and feel a closer connection to the results of their giving.

The Christmas Angels program is over for this year, but Volunteer Nanaimo offers numerous programs and connections for people looking for ways to help out in the community. For more information, please visit www.volunteer

nanaimo.ca or call 250-758-7121.