Community Highlight: The Cheer Board’s Kai Madsen


"We see the very best in people at Christmas time,” says Kai Madsen, Executive Director of the Christmas Cheer Board. “It’s neat to see how the unpleasant things that happen throughout our lives get put on the back burner, and everyone pitches in.”

Madsen has a calming presence, and exudes a warmth and friendliness that makes you feel like you’ve known him for years. He was born and raised in Denmark, and fondly remembers the ‘old country’, as he calls it. “I have lots of wonderful memories,” he says with a smile. “One of the traditions that we have [in Denmark] is dancing around the Christmas tree and singing carols. I remember those moments, and of course decorating the tree.”

It's clear how important the holidays are to Madsen, and this year will be his 46th Christmas with the Cheer Board. The organization was created in 1919 with the intent of providing for widows and orphans during the First World War. Today, it supports needy families across Winnipeg, delivering over 18,000 hampers last year.  

“The Cheer Board is here because the people of Winnipeg want us to be here,” says Madsen. “We don’t go out and knock on doors to raise money. We basically open our doors and say, ‘This organization belongs to all of us, and if you want us to do the job, then help support it.’”

And now is your chance to show your support. On December 4 and 5, we will be hosting the Christmas Miracle Toy and Cash Drive in the Food Hall to collect new, unwrapped toys for families in need. Cash donations are also encouraged, as the Cheer Board needs to raise $800,000 annually to cover the cost of purchasing food and toys to fill each hamper.

Madsen says they could use all kinds of toys, but especially need the ones that are most difficult to find – presents for kids between the ages of 10 and 14. “We buy about 50% of everything that goes into the hampers, because we have to fill in the blanks,” he explains. “It’s easy to buy for a 3-year-old girl, but it’s not so easy to buy for a 14-year-old boy.”

Supporting our community means a lot to us at St. Vital Centre, so it’s incredibly gratifying to see this event make a difference for families in need. Last year, our holiday Giftcard campaign raised $20,000 for the Cheer Board, and we can’t wait to contribute again this year.

“When you get involved with an organization like the Cheer Board, it isn’t like a business. You develop friendships, and the folks here at St. Vital Centre have made me feel welcome for so many years,” says Madsen. “I don’t think of them as [a shopping centre] – which is a wonderful place by the way – I think of them as part of my extended family.”

We couldn't be happier to continue our support of the Christmas Miracle Toy and Cash Drive, and urge everyone to stop by the Food Hall on December 4 and 5 to donate what they can. Radio stations Energy 106, Jewel 100.5, and CKJS AM 810, will also be on site to help rally as many donations as possible.

Volunteers are needed over the coming weeks to help deliver hampers and wrap toys on behalf of the Christmas Cheer Board. Call their head office at (204) 989-5680 to get involved. You can also donate toys and groceries at select locations across Winnipeg.

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