The Christmas food baskets handed out by Club Richelieu Les Patriotes to local families every year never fail to bring smiles to the faces of recipients, according to the club's president.
The packages contain fresh meat, fruits, vegetables and dairy products — items often hard to come by at food banks, Pierre Gionet said.
“There's one family I remember in particular a couple years ago, who, upon opening the package at the door, saw there was a pound of fresh bacon and some pancake mix in there,” he said.
“She was delighted. She said she hadn't eaten bacon in years. So something that we crack open on a Sunday morning and fry up, and we don't think twice about it, was a huge treat that she was going to prepare for her children.
“She was going to make bacon and pancakes on Christmas morning. She thought that was the greatest thing on the planet.”
Gionet and about 50 other volunteers sorted about $20,000 in food inside École St-Joseph's gym during the morning of Dec. 15. They then loaded reusable shopping bags filled with food into their respective vehicles for distribution.
The French-language service club has distributed groceries to families in need for its entire 25 year history, Gionet said.
“We've had up to 120 families,” he said. “It depends on the economics and what's going on in the city. This year we're at 93.”
The club receives the names of those in need from social service agencies, churches and schools, Gionet said. The program is open to families of all sizes.
“It could be just a single adult who's on hard times,” he said.
“However, we've had an instance where we've had a couple of adults and 13 or 14 children (in one household). This year we happen to have a group home on the list where we have 14 individuals we're going to be providing food for.”
The club earns the money mostly from Nevada tickets sold at the Gem Mart on Kathleen Street. This business also orders the groceries for the initiative, making sure the club gets the best deal possible.
A local potato grower — Don Poulin Potatoes — donated 100 bags of potatoes to the initiative this year, helping the club stretch its funds even further.
At 10 years old, Gionet's son Sam is a veteran of the Christmas basket program. He's been volunteering his time since he was just four years old.
Sam said he doesn't mind getting up early on a Saturday to participate.
“I think the cool part about this is we do everything from scratch,” he said.
“We don't just come here and everything's ready. We go to the store to begin with, get everything loaded into truck, bring everything here, cut open the boxes and prepare the bags.”
Richelieu member Paul de la Riva participated in the event with his 12-year-old daughter, Isabel, and her friend, Magalie Malette, also 12. He said he thought it would be a great experience for the children.
“We'll be bringing them to distribute the food to the families,” he said.
“They'll become more aware and conscious of how some people live in Sudbury. Some people may have a nice, average home, but there's often some dire needs. They live in hard conditions. You have to learn how not to bear judgement on others.”
Malette said she had fun participating in the initiative, but realizes its more serious purpose.
“For the people that need (the food baskets), they're going to have something,” she said. “It's really nice for me to see.”