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Christmas Cheer is Open for Business

From The Sault Star
Saturday November 10, 2007
by Michael Purvis

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Christmas Cheer and the Sault Star Santa Fund make sure every child - every family - has a bright and merry holiday season

The Sault Ste. Marie Innovation Centre hasn't yet figured out how to distribute toys and Christmas turkeys via email.

But a group of local GIS experts has rustled up a system that should make the old-fashioned process of giving out Christmas Cheer baskets a little easier come this Dec. 20.

Every year, hundreds of Christmas Cheer packages filled with toys, canned goods and yuletide dinners, go out to depots in dozens of zones around the city where they're picked up by recipients who have signed up.

The new system should eliminate some overlap, and make it easier for volunteers to decide who goes where to get their baskets, said Chris Sambol, GIS project leader for healthcare at the SSMIC's Community Geomatics Centre.

"What we did for them was we took their last six years worth of clients who signed up for Christmas Cheer, plotted them in the GIS system, and then reevaluated all their zones," said Sambol.

The result was a new zone map, which also takes into consideration which depots are available for each zone, and the varying capacities of the churches and halls that serve as depots.

"We took an extract of all the addresses in the community and applied the appropriate zone number to it, so now they can track when their capacities are getting full," said Sambol.

While the system won't evenly distribute baskets among all the depots, it will significantly streamline the entire process, said Diane Marshall, the charity's convenor. 

"The process will make it cleaner for us, so when people give us their street and their postal code, it will automatically assign them a zone, instead of us having to manually go to our map and our zones," said Marshall.

But because of a limited number of available depots in each zone, the system still won't be perfect, said Marshall.

"It just doesn't balance as nicely as we'd like because some areas have a high concentration of people needing help, as opposed to others," she said.

The biggest improvement will be for volunteers taking applications, said Marshall. They'll be able to simply take down a recipient's postal code and street address and know at which depot they will be able to pick up their package on Dec. 20.

"You don't want somebody driving 10 blocks when there's a depot just around the corner that's a little closer to them," said Sambol.

The Christmas Cheer GIS project was done in-kind by the non-profit Community Geomatics Centre, the same folks who, for the cost of their work, keep track of West Nile virus occurrences, along with every hydro pole, street sign and lamp post in the city.
The Christmas Cheer project comes at a great time as the annual Christmas Cheer season is about to begin.

The main depot, at 550B Second Line E., opens Thursday [November 15, 2007].

It will be open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays and 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays, Nov. 24, Dec. 1 and Dec. 8.

The last date to apply for baskets is Dec. 13. To apply, call 254-7223.

Donations of new and lightly used toys for this year's campaign can be dropped off directly at the main depot.

The donation area has been reduced this year, so bikes, skis or ski boots cannot be accepted this year.

Also, Christmas Cheer is asking donors to make sure donated toys are not on the list of those containing lead paint.

The Sault Star Santa Fund, which will kick off its annual campaign in the next few weeks, is the sole fundraising arm for Christmas Cheer.

Among other things, it provides fresh meat, fruit and vegetables for families during the holiday season.

For more information, contact Christmas Cheer representative Dianne Marshall at 254-7223.

Sault Ste. Marie Innovation Centre