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Marcia Bowkett on joy of delivering holiday food hampers for two decades

Twenty years ago Bowkett joined her son-in-law volunteering to deliver food hampers to low income families and seniors. Since then, she's never stopped.

Marcia Bowkett has been volunteering with the Christmas Bureau for 20 years.

Kevin Tuong / For Metro

Marcia Bowkett has been volunteering with the Christmas Bureau for 20 years.

Studies say volunteering can make you live longer, and Marcia Bowkett is counting on it.

“I’m planning to live 'till about 120 and go in the middle of a wild polka,” she jokes. “That’s my plan.”

Bowkett is one of the many volunteers who power Edmonton’s charities through the busy holiday season.

She drives into town from her home east of Leduc every week to donate time to the Christmas Bureau, which delivers holiday food hampers to thousands of families in need.

Bowkett started when she tagged along with her son-in-law 20 years ago, and was struck by how many recipients were single mothers with children.

A single mom who raised two children on her own, she felt a deep connection with the women she met at the doors.  

“It was very blatant. It was in my face that that could have been me when I became a single mom, if I hadn’t had a reasonable job to go to, if I hadn’t been educated toward an occupation,” Bowkett said.

“Understanding how easily it could have been me, that just kind of motivated me to keep coming.”

She has returned every year since, to make door-to-door deliveries, take donations and help out behind the scenes.

She’s kept it as a family affair as well, even bringing her grandchildren along on deliveries.

“I would take the little shopping bags and put some things in bags so even the three-year-old could take a bag to the door. And the people we delivered to, especially the seniors, were absolutely thrilled to see these little ones coming to the door,” Bowkett said.

“It was really quite cute.”

As a mom and a retired schoolteacher, she especially feels for the kids going hungry, knowing they won't learn as well at school if they don’t get proper meals.

As she gets older, Bowkett also feels an affinity for the growing number of seniors who get help from the charity.

She said she never realized how many older folks were lonely this time of year, and wishes she could do more to comfort them.  

“We’re not supposed to go in, but we can stand at the door and talk for a little while,” she said. “It makes you wish you could spend half an hour and go in and have tea and visit.”

Bowkett said she has noticed a significant increase in need in recent years, and Christmas Bureau Executive Director Darlene Kowalchuk confirmed that spike in demand is real.

In any given year, the charity will serve between seven and nine per cent of Edmonton's population.

The non-denominational charity is at 37 per cent of its $1.6-million campaign goal, which is just short of where it was the same time last year.

Kowalchuk suspects the warm weather may be keeping people’s minds off Christmas, but noted donors and clients alike are still hurting from the recession.

The Christmas Bureau is accepting donations through its website and at several locations throughout the city.

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