Image on the right is from a past Hamper Drive.
“How exactly do you build fine young men?” As the Principals at St. George’s School, we get asked this question a lot! And no matter which one of us you ask, we’ll probably give you an answer that includes the Hamper Drive. And it’s no wonder – the Hamper Drive remains one of the longest-standing traditions in our School. Most students, parents, alumni, faculty, and staff have fond memories of collecting food items, packing tubs full of groceries, donning a brightly coloured reflective vest, and rolling up their sleeves to load cars and trucks. It’s a heartwarming event that simultaneously brings our community together while teaching our boys what it means to be a man of character in our city.
The French family has a long legacy with the Hamper Drive. Ryan French ‘84 remembers the early days of the Hamper Drive and has been fortunate to relive the experience through the work and dedication of his sons: Rhys French ‘17 and our current School Captain, Kieran French ‘22.
The Hamper Drive has evolved over the years. Originally begun as a Scouts project in the mid-70s under the leadership of Geof Stancombe ‘62 (legendary teacher and Builder of St. George’s School
), it was driven by senior boys who staged a small neighbourhood can drive to collect food for those in our community who needed help during the holiday season. During the 1980s, the School was much smaller and the Hamper Drive was a more “organic” experience. As the School grew, the Hamper Drive grew. Students and families collected food, Old Boys found donors to provide turkeys and toilet paper, parents organized to provide winter clothing and gifts for every child. Donations would be stashed in every available space in the school, creating a growing tower that served as physical evidence of the generosity of the school community, until the day all would be delivered to Wallace and Dixon Gyms. “You would walk into the Gyms and the amount of food and clothing was enormous - you knew that we were making a difference,” Ryan recalls. Collecting donations was only the first half of the challenge; next students, parents, faculty and staff set about sorting the food and organizing goods. And then, on the first Saturday of Winter Break, the full community arrived in force for a pancake breakfast in McLean Hall, an assembly line that snaked through both gyms to pack the boxes that were sent up to alumni in the Grad Lounge, who then loaded them into cars for delivery. This method of organizing the Hamper Drive continued under Ed Mortimer, who is fondly remembered as the easily-identified figure, decked out in full Christmas regalia with the giant cup of coffee, in the middle of the gyms, announcing the number of hampers completed over the booming music as the day progressed.
With the retirement of Ed Mortimer in 2013, it became apparent that logistics had become overwhelming, and Dr. Matthews established a task force to realign the Hamper Drive with the new Strategic Plan’s focus on authentic, real-life student learning. Involving parents, students, and faculty mentors, Alan Hesketh and “Santa” LeBlanc, technology was leveraged to create a more efficient system of identifying families in need, assembling hampers in homerooms and advisory, tagging the hampers, and then, on the first Saturday of Winter Break organizing delivery. It became a whole school initiative, more fully involving the Junior School, focused on Vancouver and targeting families with children. Fresh produce was added. An Advisory/Homeroom component was added - as students created hampers personalized for ‘their’ families, they also learned about the working poor and food insecurity. Led by faculty mentors, a Hamper Drive Committee, consisting of student leaders from every grade level – with older students training younger ones – handled the logistics, communications, and education components.
Rhys French enthusiastically embraced this new initiative throughout his career at the Senior School, spending many hours working with the committee and taking on more responsibility every year. In 2016, as the School’s Vice Captain, he was also the Chair of the Hamper Drive. In his work with the committee, he advocated for ways for the community to reconnect on the day, and the Hamper Drive Breakfast was reinstated, which then evolved to a lunch. This tradition elicited fond memories of the early days of Hamper Drive.
Our recent pandemic challenges changed the face of the Hamper Drive yet again, but it hasn’t deterred the commitment of our current School Captain, Kieran French. Involved in the Hamper Drive since he joined St. George’s in Grade 1, he is now the Co-Chair of the current campaign, along with Carson Lecky. Last year, the pandemic necessitated shifting our support from a hamper of goods to a grocery gift card in order to meet COVID-19 safety protocols and ensure the safety of both our community and those receiving the hampers. Reports were clear that hamper recipients were incredibly grateful and this method worked well, considering the context. Kieran, like his brother and father, fondly remembers that feeling of building community and, recognizing its importance, continues to advocate for ways students and parents might come together to offer their support.
As a result, this year we are cautiously reinstating some traditions. Junior School classes are each organizing activities and events. These fun activities, like selling hot chocolate or organizing a craft fair, are ways the younger boys can interact and engage in the Hamper Drive. In homerooms and advisory classes, students are collecting household goods to create care packages for each family that will accompany the grocery gift cards. Grade Parents will come together to assemble the packages and students will personalize holiday cards to add the final touch to the hampers. It won’t be quite the same as 1983, but the spirit of St. George’s supporting our community will remain.
Kieran shared, “What is important is that we don’t forget about bringing together our Saints community as we work to support our larger Vancouver community. I hope we can build on these small steps next year as we help those in need.”
Financial gifts to support the Hamper Dive are essential as we strive to provide 250 hampers; tax receipts are issued for donations of $25.00 or more.
Junior School Principal
Senior School Principal