GIFT OF GIVING: Pastor Sandra Piefke (kneeling, centre) after last year's hamper packing with some of the heads of the different clubs and organisations who partner with House of Praise Christian Church, West Gosford, to make Operation Christmas Hamper an annual success.
GIFT OF GIVING: Pastor Sandra Piefke (kneeling, centre) after last year's hamper packing with some of the heads of the different clubs and organisations who partner with House of Praise Christian Church, West Gosford, to make Operation Christmas Hamper an annual success.

Bringing bundles of Christmas joy

IF YOU are starting to feel a little cynical about the commercialisation of Christmas, the antidote is speaking to pastor Sandra Piefke, of the House of Praise Christian Church, West Gosford.

Bubbling with goodwill and energy, 65-year-old Sandra co-ordinates the annual Operation Christmas Hamper, which last year saw 3120 hampers packed and 870 toys wrapped.

That meant 62 organisations on the Central Coast could share the Christmas spirit with individuals and families in need, including people on the streets, in refuges, programs, rehabs, housing and generally doing it tough.

It is perhaps the largest one-off annual volunteer community project on the Central Coast, with hundreds of volunteers involved, including about 18 different organisations.

Sanitarium and Mars Food donated much of the stock for the hampers, which included food staples and sweet treats, as well as sending staff to help in packing.

Service, sport and community clubs also joined in the hamper packing, cutting and wrapping of more than 3000 pieces of Christmas cake and donated toys and funds (including $26,000 from Clubs NSW) for extra items.

This year, Sandra said funding was down about $8000 from last year, meaning there would be one less item in each hamper - costs added up fast when you were packing in these numbers.

"There are so many organisations these days that do need help and people have got to be able to spread the money around," she said.

She was still hopeful of attracting more donations to make up this gap, with the aim that all the hampers were exactly the same - making it fair and easier to pack.

The idea of the hampers, she said, was to spread the joy of Christmas and get people in need through the couple of weeks around Christmas-New Year when a lot of organisations were closed and it could be particularly difficult to get help.

It all started more than 15 years ago, with Sandra initially packing 40 hampers, then 70 the following year.

When she had a few items leftover, she contacted Coast Shelter and volunteer Warren Price saw the possibilities if the two organisations worked together, combining his contacts and Sandra's passion.

"The next year we went from 70 hampers to 300 and it sky-rocketed from there, so for the last six years or so it's been about 3000," Sandra said.

She believes that's pretty much capacity, this year aiming for 3000 large hampers and another 300 Christmas bags of sweet treats for seniors who may live alone.

Today, Operation Christmas Hamper is almost a full-year production, with packing day and distribution in early to mid-December followed by clean-up andsending thank you letters and video clips of how the hamper roll-out went.

March to May is grants and funding application time and by September/ October, certain food orders (including fruit mince pies and Christmas cake) are in and toy sourcing is under way.

"I have a great team that works for me," Sandra said.

New toys and funding donations can be dropped at the House of Praise Christian Church, West Gosford, on Mondays and Fridays. Phone Sandra on 0401 478640 or go to houseofpraise. online/operation christmashampers.


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