Peter Boertien loves seeing the expressions of joy on kid's faces when he delivers Christmas boxes.
A few years ago, the Souris Lions Club member received a call from a woman in Ontario. She told him how club members would show up at her house once a year when she was growing up in the town. They would deliver a box to her family that contained all the food needed to make a traditional Christmas dinner, and there would always be a gift for her.
"At that time, they must have needed help," Boertien said. "The last three years she's been mailing me a cheque for $200 to help us."
It's not uncommon for people to pay it forward in Souris – sometimes, people who have requested boxes in the past will spot Boertien in a store parking lot and hand him a donation, he said.
"They're doing better, so it comes full circle."
So, for the club, this year's decision to increase the number of Christmas meals it gives away was an easy one. It's been operating every Christmas for about 35 years, with club members handing out up to 125 boxes in recent years. Despite COVID-19, the club has been preparing for the past two months to offer 132 boxes this year – while not a large increase, it'll make a big difference.
"Especially this year with the pandemic. (Because) there were a few jobs lost and people are in need," member Paul Gallant said.
The boxes are free for local families who may not otherwise be able to have a Christmas dinner.
The boxes will be dropped off at people's doorsteps this year to account for social-distancing protocols. All requests are kept confidential and about 20-30 volunteers usually chip in to help pack and deliver them.
The boxes are made possible thanks to donations. This year, Boertien sent out about 150 fundraising letters, he said.
"It's not possible without the community's support, of course."
Each box ranges in size based on the requesting family's needs, but they typically contain chicken or turkey, a meat pie from Seaside Bakery, potatoes and other veggies, and a few gifts for any kids in the family, Gallant said.
"And we don't go to Costco or to Walmart," he said. "We shop local."
While the Christmas box program is still a go, the club's annual Christmas party for seniors at the Souris Legion had to be cancelled this year because of pandemic restrictions.
"We want our seniors to stay safe," club president Allan Campbell said.
Daniel Brown is a local journalism initiative reporter, a position funded by the federal government.