For the ninth year in a row, Erica Beckstead is organizing a Christmas Day charity effort that will see hundreds of hampers handed out to the homeless on Dec. 25.
The Surrey resident organizes the annual Whalley Santa Cause event which involves handing out toiletries, winter clothing and other items to homeless in the area.
Beckstead, a former drug addict now working as a makeup artist, launched the initiative in 2011 after she’d collected a small mountain of soap and shampoo bottles from hotels in her job-related travels aboard the Rocky Mountaineer train.
In year one, Beckstead and three other volunteers put together 50 hampers for Whalley’s homeless population.
Fast forward to 2018 and her team had grown to an army of nearly 50 volunteers who collectively handed out an estimated 600 hampers.
And Beckstead said she’s just as motivated to pay-it-forward today as she was in that first year.
“My heart broke last night as I saw all the homeless people sitting outside the shelter on 108th and King George,” she told the Now-Leader this week. “I worked outside myself last night and could barely stand in it for 10 minutes without jumping back into my warm car. Heartbreaking or what.”
In 2018, her team did things a little bit differently, seeing as the tent city on 135A Street had been dismantled, and some homeless residents moved into modular housing set up across three sites in Whalley.
“What we did first was go down the Strip (135A Street), then around where the food bank is, we did that route,” she said. “Then we went up and did all the modular homes, and that’s how we dumped the rest of our stuff. I brought my little doggie – the homeless people just love her and she loves them. She was in her Santa suit.”
This year, the plan is similar.
“What I’ll probably do again is hit the streets first, and hit the modulars last,” she said, saying she hopes to have about 600 hampers to hand out again this year.
“The need is great.”
Beckstead said she’s hoping to get some sponsors on board this year, and is also seeking donations from the public.
“Last year, it was the week before Christmas and I had no donations,” Beckstead recalled, noting that last year, a Now-Leader article resulted in a flurry of donors at her door.
“After that, my whole living room was filled,” she remarked. “But I have been completed depleted. Normally I have a little bit leftover from some years, but I have nothing this year.”
She needs toiletries, but also warm winter clothing this year.
“First and foremost, I like trial sized, because if you’re on the street you can put it in your bag. But if people want to donate regular sized, some people are in modulars now, so they may have room to store full-sized items,” she said.
Beckstead is seeking soap, shampoo, body wash, toothpaste, toothbrushes, combs, hand sanitizer, and little packs of Kleenex. When it comes to clothes, she is seeking jackets, sweaters, socks and other warm items.
What keeps her motivated to continue her charity effort, year after year?
“I just want to continue to remind myself to stay clean – that this is what can happen to you. It’s death or recovery. There’s no in between.”
To help, Beckstead can be reached by phone, 778-233-4344 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.