LONDON, ONT. -- The Salvation Army’s Christmas hamper campaign got underway early this year, and looks a whole lot different than Christmases past.

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced big changes for the annual giveaway.

But it didn’t stop Taylor Jones from being among the first to get an appointment Thursday at the Silverwoods Arena distribution centre.

Like many, the mom of four has had a tough year.

“Miserable. It’s been a lot. Everything is just one bad thing after the other. It definitely helps the heart. It’s good to know you have support when everybody is in such a low place right now.”

Silverwoods is one of four distribution centres throughout the city the Salvation Army will be using for the campaign. Normally it’s at the Agriplex at Western Fair District, but the Salvation Army’s Nancy Kerr says that’s not an option this time around.

“We’re serving people in stages as opposed to having a thousand people a day come through, and registering at the same time and taking their items home. We have an online application process so people can do it easily and from their home and not have to be in close contact with people.”

While the first two days are being used as a trial run with two appointments every five minutes, Kerr said the operation will more than double next week when they ramp up to about 370 appointments total per day.

The campaign expects to help feed about 5,000 households in all with gift-card donations rather than food. They’re also planning to give out 7,000 bags of toys. Volunteer Cheryl Leyes said they need all the donations they can get right now.

“The real story is we still have about 3,500 bags of toys to pack. And so we’re only halfway here.”

Because of COVID-19, they’ve had to reduce the number of volunteers. Normally there’s a small army of about 1,500. This year it’s just 25 people per day. Among the crew on Thursday was long-time volunteer Dave Ward.

“It’s a comfortable feeling knowing that I can do a little part in making somebody’s Christmas better,” said Ward.

The campaign runs until Dec. 18, but it’s still in need of donations, particularly toys for infants to two-year-olds, and nine to 12-year-olds.

Donation or appointment registration details can be found here.