Despite the additional health restrictions announced on Thursday for Manitoba, the Brandon & District United Way has found a way for its annual Christmas tree auction to go ahead this year.
Normally, local businesses donate a tree with decorations and gifts under it to be given to families in need for Christmas.
The trees are "auctioned" off for charity once assembled at an annual event, with the trees getting delivered to their family afterwards.
This year, the auction is still going ahead but on the digital networking platform Zoom instead of at the Victoria Inn.
Businesses will still drop off their trees with decorations and gifts at the Victoria Inn, which is still donating storage space despite the event being changed, on Dec. 2. For physical distancing purposes, just two volunteers will be on hand to receive the items that day.
The next day, on Dec. 3 the auction will be held. The day after that, volunteers will deliver the trees, gifts and decorations to families, who will get to put up the tree and decorate it themselves. Donnelly stressed that the items will be dropped off at front doors to comply with the province’s new gathering restrictions.
That could be a special moment for some families who don’t normally have a Christmas tree said Areta Donnelly, the United Way’s campaign director.
"Last year, there was a little boy who when we brought the tree in, he was so excited and ran upstairs to get the decorations he made at school," Donnelly said. "He said, and this sucker-punched me when he said this, ‘this is the first time I’ve ever been able to hang my decorations from school’."
She added that the businesses contributing trees will be making videos to show off the trees for auction instead of showing them off in person.
The link to the Zoom auction will be made available to members of the public who want to participate.
Last month, the Brandon-Westman Christmas Cheer Board announced they would not be running their annual Christmas hamper program due to health concerns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.
Soon after, the United Way announced that it would be picking up the slack for this year with guidance from Christmas Cheer.
On Friday, Donnelly said that the organization has reached its capacity and expects more than 800 hampers to go out.
However, the organization is still looking for items — anything from socks and underwear to toys and games — to place in the hampers. Basically, anything you would want to receive for Christmas yourself.
Though the United Way office doesn’t have as many staff on hand each day due to health restrictions, there is still someone in the office during business hours with whom people can arrange to drop off donations to.
Donations can also be dropped off at the eight local businesses and organizations partnering with United Way this year. Those include: Career Connections Inc, Toymasters, Murray Auto Centre, Systems Beauty College, Planet Kia, Harvey’s, Montana’s and Co-Works.
Some of those businesses may not be open to the public under current restrictions, but Donnelly said they will all have staff on hand people can reach out to in advance to make a donation drop off at the door.
» Twitter: @ColinSlark