Looking into a shopping cart filled with clothes and boxes, Debbi Chapman reaches in and pulls out several princess dresses.
“We had 100 of these donated,” she said as she holds up the little gowns.
Chapman is a volunteer at the Mission Christmas Bureau and has been helping to make the holidays a little brighter for local families for the past decade.
And while she turns 60 in April, Chapman has no plans to slow down.
“I always wanted to volunteer for the Christmas Bureau but I was self-employed.”
She and her husband had run their own greenhouse business for years, but once her husband made the decision to retire, at age 78, Chapman knew she would finally have the time available to donate.
She went down to Mission Community Services, filled out an application, attended a seminar and met Phil Hope, coordinator of the Mission Food Centre and Christmas Bureau.
Ten years later, Chapman s still a volunteer, but many consider her to be Hope’s right hand lady.
“That’s just because I’ve been here so long and I’m the only one who puts in full-time hours,” she said with a laugh.
While she enjoys helping others, Chapman said volunteering has also been a great personal experience.
“Christmas was always very important in our family and I was sort of estranged from my family. This was sort of a way of giving back because I have no children and the step-grandchildren are far away. This is the closest thing I could do to get Christmas in our house.”
She said she keeps coming back, year after year because, she likes the people she works with.
“There are a lot of dedicated people here. And Phil is a really good guy. And he needs all the help he can get at this time of year.”
That doesn’t mean it isn’t a lot of hard work.
“We grumble in October, ‘Oh man it’s almost Christmas Bureau time’, but by the middle of November, everybody’s here and ready to help.”
Dealing with people who need assistance can be rewarding. Chapman said every family is different.
“Everybody needs help. And we are here for the children. No matter what happens with the adults, we’re here for the kids.”
The volunteers don’t get to see the kids reactions when they open their presents but they know they have made Christmas a little nicer. And the parents feel better too.
“That’s a reason we do not wrap the toy part of the hamper, so the moms and the dads get to see what’s been donated and they get to feel like they are actually able to give it.”
Her dedication to the bureau is unfaltering, even when tragedy struck.
“I lost my husband a year ago in October and Phil came to me and said, ‘We understand, you won’t be coming to do the Christmas Bureau.’ And I said ‘Actually I am.’”
Chapman said it was something she just had to do.
“It got me through the beginning of my grief because I was so busy down here focusing on everything but that.”
Chapman can’t see herself slowing down anytime soon. Once January comes, she’ll probably go to Reno.
“I’m planning to travel as much as I can and in October, I’ll start thinking about the Christmas Bureau again.
Anyone who needs help this Christmas season can come to the bureau office and register for assistance. The office is open for registration Monday to Friday, until Dec. 2, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Donations can be dropped off at the office Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The Christmas Bureau office is located at 32555 London Ave. in Mission.