By Steffanie Costigan - Lethbridge Herald Local Journalism Initiative Reporter on December 13, 2023.
The third annual Alberta Large Cars Christmas Cruise is returning to Lethbridge with 30 to 35 trucks decorated with hopes to collect more than 300 toy gifts in support of Lethbridge Family Services’ Angel Tree.
Most of the trucks are members of Alberta Large Cars and will be travelling down to Lethbridge from all over the province.
Event organizer Jackie Koch said Tuesday the project started out with the sales of T-shirts with that money being donated to Angel Tree and from there the Christmas Cruise was developed.
“It morphed into a Christmas cruise where the guys just drive down Mayor Magrath Drive and end up at the Enmax Centre at the hockey game. And then we parked there for about an hour and collected toys and gifts and it’s just kind of the last big push for the Angel Tree campaign to try and stock the shelves as much as we can,” said Koch.
The Friday cruise will start at Kirk’s Tire at 5:30 p.m. and will follow a route that goes down Mayor Magrath before ending at the Enmax Centre about 6 p.m. where they will be stay until 7 p.m. to collect toy donations.
Kelly Nichols, trucker with Guy’s Freightways from Red Deer, described the enjoyment he has gotten participating in the Christmas Cruise each year.
“We get to have the camaraderie and see the families and watch them bring their kids out, watch the smiles on the kids’ faces light up as we’re driving down the road and we see everything going on. And from the windows of the trucks, we get people waving and cheering us on… and if (the) guys got loud pipes, they let them bark, too,” said Nichols.
Lethbridge Family Services Director of Advancement and Communications Michelle Gallucci said there is a need for more toy donations because Angel Tree is currently short of gifts.
“This is the last 10 days of the campaign. And we seriously need some gifts. We are short on games and Lego, dolls and crafts. Just a lot of things because we have 500 kids left – we don’t want to give them less than the first 500,” said Gallucci.
Angel Tree is helping 4,064 children this year – an increase of 600 from 2023.
Gallucci urged people who haven’t yet donated a gift to please consider it.
“We’re always worried about that last 500. If you haven’t given a gift, think about giving a gift. Think about filling up the trucks this Friday, or just popping in and bringing a gift that would be so helpful,” she said.
Koch emotionally recalled her own childhood and expressed how unfortunate it is that a lot of children don’t receive much.
“It’s a very emotional thing. And thinking back to my childhood it is very fortunate to have everything we asked for show up under the tree. Some kids don’t get that luxury,” said Koch.
Angel Tree has spent more than $100,000 purchasing gifts for their campaign. Nichols voiced the warmth it was for him knowing the joy this will bring to the kids and he said he will keep coming back.
“This is an awesome cause and I’m gonna keep coming back as long as I’m allowed to keep coming back to do it,” said Nichols.
Only 10 days remains until the Angel Tree campaign wraps up and organizers are still in great need of toys for ages five to seven and the 11-year-old group.
Gallucci said a lot of families are voicing the need for food.
“Food security issues, of course, are relevant to today’s economic situation. And some children are asking for food. And that’s heartbreaking. A lot of the children’s wish lists are actually less than we would have expected. And that’s breaks our heart,” said Gallucci.
Gallucci said Angel Tree is trying to keep alive the magic for struggling families.
“We want to create magic; we want to create hope. We want these children to really have a joyful Christmas. And it always doesn’t mean presents, but it does mean that they know the community is supporting them. They still can believe we want that belief to stay alive.”