The Christmas Cheer Board of Winnipeg has put a halt to hamper applications.

With an overwhelming number of people reaching out for hampers this year, the Cheer Board announced on Wednesday they can no longer keep up with the need. 

“Late Wednesday afternoon, we had reached 20,250 hamper applications, which is almost a 2,000 increase over last year,” said Christmas Cheer Board Executive Director Shawna Bell. “It’s absolutely devastating that there are so many families across the city in such need this season.”

Applications began pouring in at the start of November and haven't stopped since. Call centres were expected to remain open until Dec. 24, but due to overwhelming demand, have shut down four days early, the first time in the Cheer Board's history.

“Earlier in December, we placed additional orders for food in the hopes it would be enough to get us through the season. It’s finally come to a point where our budget cannot bear the demand we are seeing,” said Jim Ketcheson, board chairperson.

Based on years of experience, the Cheer Board team projects the number of hamper applications it will fill each year and weighs that against the donor support it gets from Winnipeggers. To facilitate the on-time arrival of food and toys, this happens in the summer months.

Sometimes the Cheer Board will do a ‘top-up’ of their supplies in the middle of the Christmas season. They did that this year, but still, it wasn't enough.

"Our projections over the years almost always hit the mark, but this Christmas season has been like no other. It’s heartbreaking to have to pull the plug on hamper applications a little early this year,” says Bell. “Our amazing warehouse volunteers feel the burden of that decision as we all do. We knew this was going to be a record year for applications, but hamper requests have been coming in like nothing we’ve ever seen.”

Although they are no longer accepting hamper applications, Shawna says they are still open to receiving donations. 

"We're able to take any donations that still come in. They can visit us at 895 Century Street. We'll get that out into hampers as quickly as we can. If anyone is interested in making a cash donation, they can reach us at 204-989-5680 or we also do e-transfers. Canada Helps is also another portal we work with," said Shawna. "So certainly, we've got a lot of options people can reach out to us if they want to."

The warehouse will remain open through Dec. 24 for deliveries and pickups of hamper applications that have already been placed. 

"I can't thank the community enough for standing up and helping us out. Every year, they're amazing. It's great to be a part of this community, and I'm sorry that we're in a place where we are feeling like we're letting folks down because that's never where we want to land. I just appreciate the community for supporting us for over 104 years now."