This is a really kuul story that no doubt is being portrayed in many small towns around the world:

Port Alice resident 'choked up' by arrival of Santa on gift trucks.

Louise Dickson Times Colonist December 24, 2004

When Karin Smith heard the truck horns honking in the distance, she rushed down to the Port Alice community centre.

An RCMP cruiser with its lights flashing was escorting the Lions' massive Christmas Relief Drive into the village on the north end of Vancouver Island Wednesday afternoon.

A 53-foot semi-trailer and a five-ton truck, both filled with groceries and gifts, headed down the main street.

Santa and Mrs. Claus were both on board, waving to the quickly-gathering crowd.

"You know how you get that little rush and you get all choked up," said Smith.

"Well, I had to hold myself back a couple of times and think of other things so I wouldn't cry.

"It's a sad thing and a heartwarming thing at the same time."

Port Alice's 700 residents have been hard hit by the closure of Port Alice Specialty Cellulose mill. About 280 mill workers have been unemployed since the mill closed Oct. 22.

Daryl Driemel, a former Saanich firefighter, was one of the chief organizers of the relief drive. Like Smith, he experienced a rush of emotion as the convey entered the town and began unloading supplies into the community centre.

"As a firefighter, you're dealing with emotions all the time and people are thankful you're able to do certain things in emergencies. But this was a humanitarian effort. I've never had so many people hug me or shake my hand. It was very humbling. There were so many tears of emotion."

It took a convoy of volunteers about two hours to unload the truck. Driemel, 55, estimates the Lions collected about $100,000 worth of groceries, gifts and more than $30,000 in cash on the two-day drive from Victoria to Port Alice. The money will be given to the newly created food depot -- food bank -- to give to families to spend at the grocery store.

The donations were overwhelming, said Smith, a mother of two whose husband John worked at the mill for 29 years. Some people don't understand how hard it is, she said.

"One girlfriend said, "It can't be that bad. I know there are a lot worse off. But it is bad because it's so many years of this."

The specialty pulp mill was the engine that drove the economy of the north Island. But in the past four years, employees have lived through several shutdowns. Unemployment cheques have been getting smaller.

Gail Morrison, who works at the town hall, said the village sent a letter to the 280 mill-worker families, telling them they would receive a Christmas hamper unless they phoned to say they didn't want one. The hampers were available for pickup starting at noon Thursday.

"The word that keeps popping up is "awesome," said Morrison. "The Lions have definitely been good Christmas elves for us."

The Lions want to thank everyone who donated items or cash, but they hope people realize Port Alice will still need help.

Financial donations can be made to Save Alice Services, Scotia Bank Branch 002, Transit #10280, Account # 0083383, Box 612, Port Alice, VON 2NO.

Times Colonist (Victoria) 2004