Lori Fleming likes to think of herself as one who plants the seeds of ideas around the South Cariboo.
She insists, however, that for those ideas to bloom into something meaningful, it takes the effort of many more dedicated volunteers.
“I just like to get things started,” said Fleming, who founded the Christmas Shoebox campaign with her mom, Ev, almost 10 years ago.
“But it’s the community that carries it through.”
The Buffalo Creek resident and her network of helpers recently wrapped up this season’s Christmas gifting efforts after weeks of collecting, shopping, packing and wrapping.
This year, the Shoebox team focused on three different projects – a sponsor family who will receive Christmas necessities they might not be able to afford, gift bags for local homeless community members and a collection of $10 gifts, which were handed out with the help of Santa and Mrs. Claus earlier this week.
“We started the $10 gift collecting early, and it wasn’t really going well at first so I thought it might be a dud,” she said. “But we ended up having 90 gifts to give out.”
The mother-daughter team started the local Shoebox program in 2012, after several years of donating to the Samaritan’s Purse, which helps families in need overseas.
“One day I just thought, ‘we should do this for our own town,’” Fleming recalled.
It has evolved over the years, she noted, and the recipients for the program don’t always stay the same.
For several years, gifts were distributed through Loaves and Fishes – more than 300 gifts each year during that time period, Fleming said.
“In 2019 we changed it up and did gifts for seniors in care, and there were 175 seniors that each got a gift,” she said.
The following year, when COVID-19 hit, the program scaled back and volunteers decided to choose six seniors who were living in their own homes to be recipients of a complete Christmas care package.
“It was a carload of stuff for each one – the turkey, a tree, baking, gifts – that was really fun,” Fleming said.
This year, incorporating a helping hand for 100 Mile House’s homeless population has received a very positive response from those who donate and help out, she said.
The volunteers put together 40 large ziplock bags with handmade toques and gloves, toiletries, gift cards to Tim Hortons and the 100 Mile Laundromat for showers and laundry, as well as other festive goodies.
“Whatever we could stuff into those bags, we filled them,” she said, noting the bags were dropped off at the local Canadian Mental Health Association for distribution.
When Fleming isn’t up to her elbows in donated gifts and wrapping paper, she can be found administrating a popular local Facebook group called the Cariboo Chit Chat Club.
Fleming founded the group around six years ago in an attempt to create something positive amid the increasingly negative social media discourse.
The group now has more than 3,000 members, who share funny videos, uplifting stories and – for the most part – positive content.
“We try not to have any negativity on the page,” Fleming said.
Up next for Fleming is a brand new idea – another seed that will hopefully grow into something fun and beautiful – for an Easter Parade in downtown 100 Mile.
“It would just be a walking parade, but I think it would be a lot of fun. Everyone could wear fancy Easter hats, and we could make it a fundraiser as well,” she said.
While the idea is in its early stages, she is hoping it can be something to bring the community together after a long winter and give back to those in need.
“This is the most generous little town in the Cariboo,” Fleming said. “We have the kindest people. All you have to do is ask, and they will give.”