Gift-wrap booth co-ordinator Janet Jans (foreground) is flanked by fellow volunteers Louise Shaw

They’re all wrapped up in holiday spirit

Cancer fundraiser at Semiahmoo Shopping Centre poised to hit $100,000 mark this year.

For many people, spending a lot of time in a crowded shopping centre during the run-up to Christmas is something to be done sparingly.

After all, it doesn’t take much – a busy parking lot, a mad rush of last-minute shoppers and, as a Grinch might say, all the noise, noise, noise, noise – to zap someone of holiday spirit.

But for Janet Jans, who has spent the last decade of Decembers wrapping gifts at Semiahmoo Shopping Centre, the feeling is quite the opposite. It’s there, behind the counter of the centre’s holiday gift-wrapping station, that she feels the most Christmas cheer.

It’s why she’s spearheaded the gift-wrapping project for so long, raising thousands of dollars each year for the Canadian Cancer Society – they raise about $10,000 per year, and this year expect to top the $100,000 mark overall.

For Jans, who co-ordinates all the gift-wrapping volunteers, such efforts are simply an extension of how she was raised.

“I’ve done volunteer work all my life. I come from a big family – four brothers and one sister – and doing things like this was just what you did. It was part of our life,” said Jans, who grew up in Winnipeg.

Jans’ volunteerism extended beyond her hometown, as well. Her husband, Bill, is a former RCMP member, which meant moving quite a bit. And in each new town, she’d find a way to give back.

In Ottawa – the couple’s first RCMP post, in the late 1960s – Jans joined up with the local legion to help raise funds for a new children’s hospital. Later, while living in Regina, she helped raise money for cancer research.

And now in South Surrey, she’s once again helping raise money in support of cancer research, one wrapped gift at a time.

It’s a big endeavour – Jans co-ordinates 93 volunteers (plus some spares) and fills three shifts every day, right up until Christmas Eve, when Semiahmoo Shopping Centre closes its doors for the big day.

“There’s always a pretty long line right at the end,” she laughed.

Jans is also quick to heap praise on her volunteers, many of whom have been wrapping gifts just as long as she has.

“We have doctors, lawyers, teachers, real-estate agents – people who take time off work to come here and help, all for a smile and a thank you,” she beamed.

“Not everyone who volunteers has been touched by cancer, though many have. And they’re all so caring and giving.”

Raising money for cancer research is a cause near and dear to Jans; she lost her brother, Russell, to the disease at age 52.

Her brother was “tall and strong, and never sick a day in his life” before being diagnosed, Jans said. Growing up, he’d always wanted to join the Marines, and eventually convinced his parents to let him move from Winnipeg to Minneapolis, where he enlisted. From there, he was transferred to Washington, D.C. and to this day, Jans explained, he is the only Canadian to have ever officially guarded a U.S. president – JFK.

“He’s never far from my thoughts,” Jans said.

There are others involved in the gift-wrap program who inspire her, too. Like one volunteer who, a few years ago, was diagnosed with breast cancer and scheduled for surgery on Boxing Day.

“She worked Christmas Eve and never said a word,” Jans said. “She still comes in and helps.”

The gift-wrap station at Semiahmoo Shopping Centre is open daily until 5 p.m. Christmas Eve, and gifts are wrapped by donation.

For information and shopping centre hours, visit www.shopsemiahmoo.com

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