It was just an idea for its time,” concluded Donna Isaak.
And today, it’s still time for the idea. Even though Donna and her husband Ed haven’t been involved since 2004, Share the Spirit is still thriving for the 15th consecutive Christmas.
The Isaaks had recently taken over management of the Discovery Bar, in the former Taku Hotel (now Coast Mountain Sports) in the fall of 1997.
One night, their conversation drifted around to the coming Christmas. Ed was struck by the people sitting in the bar, some of whom he knew had no family to share Christmas with.
“This was where they went for companionship and to get a sense of family. On Christmas, when we were closed, they would have nowhere to go and no Christmas.”
Someone said something like, “Wouldn’t it be nice to bring Christmas to a few people up here?”
The comment took Donna back to her childhood.
Her father, injured in a work-related accident, had been off work for several months. The family was barely living hand-to-mouth off the small income her mother could bring home.
“In those days there was nothing to help us the way there is for families today.”
Christmas was coming but it held little promise for them.
The day before Christmas Eve, there was a knock on the door. Outside stood members of the Lutheran Church, where Donna’s mother worshipped. They had baskets of food, a turkey and presents for each of the children.
“The people from the church had brought Christmas to us.”
With that memory foremost in her mind, Donna took the wistful comment to heart.
“It couldn’t be just Christmas. It had to be a quality Christmas. And it had to be for families with children,” she remembers.
“There would be a turkey and all the food. We would make up a wish list for children, a present for Mom and/or Dad and a family present.
“But it had to be done anonymously. We had to do it that way, to not know the names of the family, to preserve their dignity. Many of them weren’t poor by choice. They worked, but they couldn’t make enough money to make ends meet. I knew how that felt.”
That first year they set a goal of $3,500 to bring Christmas to seven families.
They raised funds by walking down Main Street, soliciting the businesses located there and through events held in the bar itself.
“People would just walk in with donations. We held auctions,” Ed recalls.
“I found an old tree on the side of the road. It had no needles left on it and hardly any branches. I spray painted it gold, then hung strings of lights on it. Each string had 25 lights in it. We stood it up on the stage in the bar.
“We collected one dollar for every light on the tree and with every $25 we would plug in another string. The next thing you knew, all the lights were lit and we had 500 bucks.”
The next year the Catholic schools in Whitehorse got involved. Another year and the banks came on board, other schools signed up and more Whitehorse merchants and the churches became involved.
“It just sort of spread and grew over the next few years,” says Donna, “and started to help so many families. It just got so big.”
Of all the families helped by Share the Spirit, the Isaaks only met one face-to-face.
It was a Christmas Eve when the mother called her. They were on the list, but somehow had fallen through the cracks and the food and gifts had not arrived.
“I’ll see what I can do,” Donna promised. She and Ed went on “a mad shopping trip”, picking up presents for the children and one for the parents, along with the food.
When they arrived at the door, the mother burst into tears and the father was overwhelmed, just walking around wringing his hands.
Eventually a health crisis forced them to give up Share the Spirit, but they still watch in awe as the organization kicks into existence every October.
It has grown, in the hands of first the Whitehorse Kinsmen and then the Kinettes, to a seasonal organization with in excess of 100 donors and another 100-plus volunteers who buy, wrap and deliver.
For each Share the Spirit donor/volunteer combination, there is a child in Whitehorse who will have a Christmas their parents otherwise couldn’t afford.
“I find that people in Whitehorse are incredibly generous,” Donna says. “It is the whole community that does it.”
For information, or to contribute to this year’s Share the Spirit campaign, contact the Whitehorse Kinette Club at 393-3537 or [email protected].