By Sandi Cobb — from The Saint, Summer 2013
Like many traditions, the Hamper Drive wasn’t born fully-formed and recognizable. It has evolved over three decades. It began as a Scouts project. Scouts have been a part of St. George’s from the School’s earliest days, but during the 70s, at a time when Scouting world-wide was at a low ebb, it paradoxically grew at St. George’s under some inspired leadership to two Cub packs, a Venturer company, and a Rover group which averaged 50 boys each year, all from Grades 11 and 12. It was some of these senior boys, with Geof “Daddy” Stancombe as Scout Master, who started the neighbourhood can drives, stacking and counting several hundred cans in the old cafeteria, packing boxes, and delivering them to 15 or 20 local families. The old cafeteria overlooked the Wallace gym, where cans are still stacked and counted for the Hamper Drive, but now in thousands rather than hundreds. Some of these early deliveries were made in a Mini, on a route that could consist only of right-hand turns, due to a mechanical (or driver) idiosyncrasy that has been lost to the mists of time.
Over the 20 years that Daddy Stancombe guided the Hamper Drive, it grew from a neighbourhood can drive (continued today by the boarders of Harker Hall in their annual Reindeer Run) to the current remarkable operation that sees more than 300 families receive hampers each year. Geof’s vision was shared by John McDougall, who along with other Alumni developed a network of corporate support that added enormously to what could be achieved. Saints involvement still inspires the Hamper Drive tradition, as every year sees returning cohorts making boxes, staging, shipping, and delivering to families — always the most meaningful experience of the Hamper Drive.
Others have helped build the tradition: Saints families give generously to ensure every recipient family’s hamper is personalized with gift bags for parents, and toys, books, and gifts for the children. The combined passion and talents of Ed and Danette Mortimer ensured that the operation kept pace with Geof’s inexhaustible drive and energy; Ed’s mind-boggling organization of the production line and Danette’s compassionate management of the recipient families both involving oh-so-much-more than is ever seen on Hamper Drive day.
So with all that growth, it’s little wonder Memory Lane was commandeered as a last resort storage place (last resort because not every box always found its way down in time for Hamper Drive!) The first resort was Geof’s office, often so crammed with cans, boxes, and bags that he would have to borrow someone else’s desk and telephone to solicit donations from businesses and companies that, by the most tenuous connection, found themselves on Geof’s Hamper Drive Donors’ List — a list that was never allowed to get shorter, only longer. No company could ever claim to have “ceased trading”, no erstwhile Georgian connection “retired”; Geof would always take the opportunity to draw a new supporter into the Hamper Drive fold to fill the vacant spot, while the list got longer, the donations came in, Geof’s office overflowed. Even the portables (ah, the portables!) were filled until Saints families came again at the end of winter term to deliver it all.
Thousands of feet have shuffled behind boxes, thousands of arms have lifted, thousands of eyes have welled with tears, and thousands of hearts have been warmed in forging the Hamper Drive tradition. Long may it continue!