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  • Worth the Trip

    This past year, volunteer writer Amanda Oye spent a lot of time covering the Christmas Fund. She wrote a total of four blog posts, on Steveston Beer Fest, the student group who decorated our toy room, Windows of Hope, and the Christmas Dine & Dance. She also spoke with Christmas Fund clients and, with their permission, shared their stories, the first of which we published in January. This is the second. We always say that, without our amazing volunteers, the Christmas Fund wouldn't exist. Well, without Amanda, its stories would never be told. 

    Moving across the country is always difficult. Moving across the country with a young child as the holiday season fast approaches is especially challenging.

    A recent big move, like the one made by Katie* from Ontario, is just one of many reasons she sought help from the Richmond Christmas Fund this past year.

    Katie moved to Richmond in November to be closer to her family, who have been living in the Lower Mainland for the past eight years. While Katie has been out to visit a few times, they have not been together as a family for the holidays for all of those eight years.

    While the prospect of Christmas with loved ones was exciting, when Katie moved she was still concerned that she would not be able to give her son the Christmas he deserves.

    “I felt terrible,” she said. “He’s only five so he wouldn’t understand that mommy is out of work, that mommy can’t afford to buy him things.”


     
    Among the many Christmas Fund events Amanda covered in 2013 was Steveston Beer Fest, held October 5 at
    the Gulf of Georgia Cannery.


    With the help of the Christmas Fund, this year was memorable for both of them.

    “It was amazing,” Katie said. “My son was really happy…to see the excitement on his face was just indescribable,” she said.

    He got a few different gifts, but the one he loves the most is a set of building blocks. “He’s making tons of different things out of those every day,” Katie said. “He loves it.”

    After opening gifts Christmas morning, they had a nice family breakfast and then dinner with friends. The best part of the holidays for Katie this year, besides being able to see the joy on her son’s face, was “being with my family after all these years,” she said. “I love being here all together.”

    Thanks in a large part to the Christmas Fund, this first holiday season back with loved ones was filled with happy memories for Katie.“I’d like to say a big huge, grateful thank you to the Richmond Christmas Fund,” she said. “Without [the Christmas Fund], I don’t know what I would have done.”

    *Name has been changed

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  • A Good Start

    The reasons why somebody might need the Christmas Fund are specific and personal. Usually, though, it comes down to a lousy year, an unlucky month, or a bad break. It's those times in life that we all experience, hitting harder for some than others. The Christmas Fund provides support to the hardest hit. As volunteer writer Amanda Oye found out, the expectation among Christmas Fund clients isn't that the program will make a lasting difference. Rather, they see it as a turning point towards a better year, luckier months, and, finally, a few good breaks.

    In the early days of December, hundreds of people make their way over to Volunteer Richmond to sign up for the Richmond Christmas Fund. For them, this is an important part of getting ready for the holiday season. Various life circumstances have compelled each of them to seek out help from the Christmas Fund to make the holidays special.

    Through the Fund, those who registered received, among other things, gift cards for grocery stores and toys for their children.


     
    Snow falling on a Christmas Fund sign outside our office at the Caring Place.


    Cassandra* was one of the many who needed a helping hand this year. She has been using the Christmas Fund for several years now – from when her now-grown daughter was young and she became a single mother.

    “The winter months are harder to raise a child on your own,” Cassandra said. This year, she is experiencing health issues and is unable to work, so the Christmas Fund went a long way in terms of helping her out with groceries.

    “It’s a nice relief to have some extra support,” she said. “It has brought some Christmas spirit to me.”

    Cassandra spent this past Christmas “just getting together with family and with friends,” she said.

    On Christmas Day she helped a friend who is going through cancer treatment cook a turkey dinner. A week later, when everyone was able to get together, her family had their big Christmas dinner. “It turned out pretty good,” Cassandra said.

    “[The Christmas Fund does its] best to make it a good start to the New Year and end of the year ... and I think people appreciate it – I appreciate it, anyways,” she said.

    “It’s nice that others are helping others.”

    * Name has been changed


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  • Gettin' Down for the Richmond Christmas Fund

    This past Friday, on what was surely the funkiest night in the history of the Richmond Christmas Fund, Continental Seafood Restaurant played host to the 2nd Annual Christmas Dine & Dance. Presented by Summit Customs Brokers and Rubina Hope for Kids, the event featured the musical stylings of Wager and the R&B Allstars, whose bluesy riffs and soulful singing packed the dance floor all night long. Volunteer writer Amanda Oye files this funktastic report.


    Dinner, dancing, and live music inspired people to give generously at Rubina Hope for Kids’ 2nd Annual Christmas Dine & Dance, December 13th.


    Over $7,000 was raised to help local children in need at the event, which was held at Continental Seafood Restaurant.

    All money raised will benefit the Richmond Christmas Fund, with a portion of it going specifically towards sponsoring four families this holiday season.


    The evening started off with a delicious 10-course meal, featuring an assortment of popular Chinese dishes, including sweet and sour pork, fried rice, and corn chowder. Following dinner, there was live music and plenty of room for everyone to get up and dance on the dance floor.


     
    Volunteer Richmond President Mary Kemmis, Christmas Fund Community Chair Wayne Duzita, Santa, event organizer Gary Eng, and Mayor Malcolm Brodie at the 2nd Annual Christmas Dine & Dance. Photo by Amanda Oye


    The live entertainment, presented by Summit Customs Brokers, featured Wager and the R&B Allstars. Mayor Malcolm Brodie made a special guest appearance and played trombone for a couple of songs with the R&B Allstars.


    The event raised money for the Christmas Fund through a raffle, 50/50 draw, and ticket sales.

    The host organization of the evening, Rubina Hope for Kids, started as a group dedicated to helping those affected by the 2004 earthquake in Thailand, and now continues its work with a focus on helping local children.


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  • A Decade of Windows of Hope

    We're going to go out on a limb and say that most fundraising events - no matter what the cause - fizzle out before they hit the 10-year mark. It's hard to maintain momentum, you know? Unless, of course, you're the Richmond Auto Mall, who hosted their 10th Annual Windows of Hope fundraiser on Tuesday. The event just seems to get better with age - more painted windows, more volunteers, and yes, more money raised for the Richmond Christmas Fund. Volunteer writer Amanda Oye, who's covered Windows of Hope before, was there again this year, and offers this account of one of the Christmas Fund's most memorable nights

    The sight of hundreds of volunteers busily working at night to paint some Christmas cheer on the windows of car dealerships at the Richmond Auto Mall is a sure sign that the holiday season is upon us.

    For the 10th year, car dealerships at the Richmond Auto Mall have sponsored windows for the mall’s annual Windows of Hope fundraiser, benefiting the Richmond Christmas Fund.

    “We wanted to create a unique event that would support the Richmond Christmas Fund,” said Gail Terry, general manager of the Richmond Auto Mall. “The overwhelming support of the event from the community is heartwarming. It’s the real spirit of Christmas.”

    Over 200 volunteers came out last Tuesday to help paint, while prior to that many more had taken the time to clean and stencil the windows so that everything was ready.


     
    The Steveston-London Secondary School Art Club at Windows of Hope, held Tuesday, November 26, at the Richmond Auto Mall. Photo by Sid Akselrod 


    “The number of volunteers has been amazing,” said Terry. In fact, there were so many people who wanted to participate this year that there was a waitlist.

    Among the groups who got lucky and managed to nab spot was Target. Despite their busy schedule settling into their new location and getting ready for the holidays, the company still managed to send over a group of excited volunteers to help out.

    “We thought this is such a great cause,” said Maggie Chung, executive team leader at Target. “We were so happy they were able to take us in.”

    Being new to the community, this was the team’s first time out to Windows of Hope, and they were definitely impressed. “We didn’t know how elaborate it is,” Chung said.

    While this is Target’s first year out, many of the groups have made it an annual tradition to help paint windows at the Auto Mall. Steveston-London’s art club, for instance, has been coming out for five years now.

    “Our club loves to do community work,” said Sid Akselrod, Steveston-London Secondary teacher and head of the school’s arts club. “There’s this desire to get out and use their skills in a way that will help other people.”

    The club is a unique part of the fundraiser, as theirs is the only window that is not stenciled beforehand. Instead, each student who participates contributes to the creation of an overall image, which is then stenciled on by the students themselves on the day of the event. “These guys really love doing art and this is a huge canvas,” Akselrod said. “They are very talented, absolutely fearless.”

    Windows of Hope is the Christmas Fund’s biggest fundraiser, raising $24,000 last year alone.

    There were 22 windows that were painted this year at the various dealerships at the Auto Mall.

    Before heading out to paint, each volunteer received reindeer antlers and a red Windows of Hope t-shirt. Along with their painting supplies and other goodies, the groups were given helpful tips and full encouragement to be as creative as they wanted.

    You can head down to the Auto Mall and see the finished windows now throughout December.


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  • Have You Heard The One About The Lawyers Who Did Something Amazing for Their Community?

    New events get added to the Christmas Fund calendar each year, which is a great thing, especially when said events are as well-organized, successful, and downright fun as the Richmond Bar Dinner. 

    After last night, we’re never telling another lawyer joke – ever. In fact, from now on, we’ll do nothing but sing their praises.

    Last evening, you see, was the Richmond Bar Dinner, a gathering of more than 120 of our city’s finest lawyers and legal practitioners. They’d come together (for the first time in eight years, apparently) to meet and mingle and network and, as one does at a dinner, eat.

    But they’d also come together for another reason: to support the Richmond Christmas Fund, for which the entire event was a fundraiser. All proceeds from ticket sales and raffle ticket sales were donated to the program, in addition to individual contributions that attendees made throughout the evening. The final total hasn’t yet been announced, but it’s estimated to be well over $10,000.

    Of course, the dinner didn’t just spontaneously happen; there was a lot of organizing involved. Taking the lead on that front was Christmas Fund Roundtable member Eric Schroter, along with fellow Roundtable member Gary Cohen and Gary Hagel, best known around these parts as a long-serving board member of the Richmond Caring Place. Together, these three put in a tremendous amount of work, and it no doubt paid off. We owe them a huge thank you.


     
    Christmas Fund Community Chair Wayne Duzita, Volunteer Richmond Executive Director Elizabeth Specht, and Christmas Fund Roundtable Member Eric Schroter at the Richmond Bar Dinner, held November 21 at River Rock Casino.


    Also deserving of much praise are the four law firms that underwrote the event: Campbell Froh May & Rice, Cohen Buchan Edwards, Pryke Lambert Leathley Russell, and Kahn Zack Ehrlich Lithwick. Remember how we said that all – not net, but all – proceeds from ticket sales went to the Christmas Fund? These four firms made that possible.

    Thank you also goes out to Christmas Fund Roundtable member Jana Yackel and River Rock Casino Resort. River Rock not only hosted the dinner (waiving the room fee, we might add), but also donated the prize package for the raffle draw.

    And really, the list goes on. To the volunteers who sold raffle tickets: you’re awesome. To Tony Wilson, the night’s keynote speaker (who also waived his fee): you’re hilarious. (Seriously, we’re going to start reading BarTalk – or at least your column – just because of your speech.) To the attendees: your support means the world to us.

    In short, the entire event was the epitome of a group effort.

    And so you can see why we can never again tell a lawyer joke, nor would we want to. Richmond lawyers stepped up big time for the Christmas Fund last night, and indeed, have been doing so for many years through individual donations. There's nothing funny about that, but there is a lot to admire. 


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  • Extreme Makeover: Toy Room Edition

    This year, students from Jaws with a Cause, a volunteer group at Steveston-London Secondary School, have generously offered to decorate the Christmas Fund toy room. They purchased all the supplies themselves through their own fundraising initiatives, and, since Tuesday, have been spending their afternoons (and early evenings) in the chilly confines of the Brighouse change rooms, methodically transforming the space into Richmond's own version of Santa's workshop. Volunteer writer Amanda Oye dropped by to speak with group leaders Jennifer Lee and Annika Lim. As it turns out, they're just as awesome as you'd think. 

    Nothing says Christmas quite like nice, cozy rooms dressed up with snowflakes, stockings, and lights.

    All of these things and more are being used to transform three changing rooms at Brighouse Park - just in time to be filled with toys for Volunteer Richmond’s annual Richmond Christmas Fund.

    “We hope that they won’t look like changing rooms,” said Jennifer Lee, co-president of Jaws with a Cause, a group of students from Steveston-London Secondary School who are in charge of the makeovers.

    The group is excited “to see the rooms go from being cold and bare to having a Christmas-y feeling,” said Annika Lim, who shares the role of president with Lee.


     
    Students from Jaws with a Cause felled this mighty spruce all by themselves. It's just one of the many decorative elements they're using to - you know it's coming - "spruce" up the Christmas Fund toy room in time for registration, which begins November 30. Photo by Amanda Oye


    The rooms will see plenty of traffic, as parents who have signed up for the Christmas Fund will walk through them to pick out toys for their children.

    The end goal is to change the space into a place where, “when parents walk into the room they won’t think they are picking up toys from a changing room, they will think they are picking up toys from Santa’s workshop,” Lim said.

    Jaws with a Cause will be helping out at several other Christmas Fund events this year, including Windows of Hope, at the Richmond Auto Mall.

    And their contributions to the community don’t stop there. Each year, Jaws with a Cause helps out numerous organizations that need volunteers, and the group is always looking for new opportunities.

    “We want to encourage people to volunteer not just at Christmas but all year-round,” said Lim.

    Christmas Fund registration runs from November 30 through December 14. Click here for a complete list of dates, times, and eligibility criteria. 

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  • YVR for Kids Sponsors "Skate with Santa"

    On a Sunday evening in the middle of December, Minoru Arenas opened its doors to reveal a winter wonderland inside, complete with falling snow. The Christmas lights, the decorations, they were all part of a special event, featuring a special guest. 150 children were about to get a chance to "Skate with Santa."

    Christmas is a busy time for Santa. The busiest, in fact. But on December 16, in the midst of preparing for his yearly gift-giving journey around the globe, he found time to visit Minoru Arenas in Richmond. The occasion was the annual YVR for Kids “Skate with Santa” event. Jolly Old Saint Nick has been heard to say that he wouldn’t miss it for the world.

    Over 150 children, along with their parents, attended the event, made possible by a generous $5,000 donation from YVR for Kids. The families were clients of the Richmond Christmas Fund, a program that provides assistance to low-income residents during the holiday season. Each family member receives a grocery voucher, while children 12 and under also receive toys, books, and games, plus a ticket to “Skate with Santa.”

     
    The Richmond Christmas Fund's Elizabeth Specht (l) and Wayne Duzita (r) with Santa and YVR for Kids Chair Cheryl Hendrickson. YVR for Kids sponsors the Christmas Fund's "Skate with Santa" event, which gives children 12 and under who have registered with the Fund an opportunity to strap on a pair of skates (some for the first time) and take to the ice with Jolly Old Saint Nick. This year's event was held December 16 at Minoru Arenas.

    At the event, children can skate for free. But that’s not all, not even close. They’re also treated to hot chocolate and, when they’re finished, leave with a goodie bag full of gifts. This year, the bags were overflowing with toys, art supplies, and everything in between. There was candy and chocolate, too. But don’t worry: to balance things out, Santa’s elves put a tooth brush (or two or three) in every bag.

    And of course, there was Santa himself. He was in a festive mood, trading in his boots for a pair of skates and joining the children on the ice. Never camera shy, the Man in Red welcomed photos, so children could leave with yet another souvenir from the event.

    All of us at Volunteer Richmond would like to thank YVR for Kids for sponsoring “Skate with Santa.” It’s a special event made possible by the incredible fundraising efforts of the airport community.


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  • A Lesson in Giving

    Emily de Boer and her sister Audrey are two of the most inspirational people you'll ever meet. (If you don't believe us, just read this story.) This blog post, by volunteer writer Benjamin Yong, is about them and the Richmond Christmas Fund and how giving back to the community has no age restrictions.     

    In November, Emily de Boer had her own booth at the Steveston Farmers Market. That in itself isn’t much of a story. But what if I told you that Emily is only 12 years old? The story’s getting a little more interesting, right? And what if I told you that she wasn’t there to sell anything – not arts and crafts, or jewelry, or baked goods – but was there instead to support the Richmond Christmas Fund, a cause she believes in and one her and her family have been involved with since she was just a toddler? At this point, I think you’ll agree that the story just got downright awesome.

    Emily’s mom, Charmis, said that every holiday season, Emily and her younger sister Audrey, 10, would accompany her on a special night of shopping at Richmond Centre or Lansdowne Centre to buy gifts to donate to families in need, something they still do today. It was this lifelong involvement that was part of Emily’s motivation to hand out Christmas Fund brochures and collect cash and toy donations at the market on November 18.

    “There are less fortunate families that don’t celebrate Christmas to the full potential, so this is just to help make Christmas a bit better for them,” said Emily, who, along with Audrey and a couple of their friends, returned to the Steveston Farmers Market on December 2 to help spread the word about the Christmas Fund. “I just feel like Christmas is supposed to be family time, and if people can’t enjoy it, it upsets me.”

    During her first outing, Emily said a lot of people came by her table giving everything from the loose change in their pockets to $20 bills. Even Audrey's Lord Byng Elementary classmates stopped by to show their support.

     
    We don't use the term "role model" very often, or very lightly, but even at just 12 years old, Emily de Boer definitely fits the bill.

    For Charmis, the Richmond Christmas Fund’s message that giving is greater than receiving really lays the foundation for what the holiday season is all about.“The simplest things mean the most. If you’re a family that’s struggling, you can be struggling in many ways. We live in a world that’s very demanding on us financially and emotionally, and the Christmas Fund takes some strain off that.”

    In 2009 Charmis’ workplace, Innovation Networks, an IT company in Richmond specializing in technical support, took part in a Leadership Richmond pilot project taking old computers donated by clients and refurbishing them to give to needy families. Student and company volunteers would help, and sometimes, even her children.

    “My kids, being my kids, would get involved, and they witnessed what it means to give back,” said Charmis.

    Obviously, Emily and Audrey learned a lot from what they saw. And now, perhaps others can learn from them.


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  • Community Portrait: Volunteers Come Together to Paint Windows of Hope

    November 22, 2011. It’s a cold, windy, rainy night in Richmond. You wouldn’t blame somebody for wanting to stay at home and curl up with a good book, waiting for the storm to pass. Quite frankly, you’d expect it. Then again, this is Richmond we’re talking about. A little bad weather wasn’t going to dampen the spirits of the 140+ volunteers who showed up at the Richmond Auto Mall to take part in the 8th Annual Windows of Hope fundraiser. The event is held in support of the Richmond Christmas Fund, and this year's edition was the most successful yet. Volunteer writer Amanda Oye was there to take in the sights and sounds of what has become one of the highlights of the holiday season.

    A sure sign that holiday spirit is alive and well in Richmond is when a vast range of community groups, from local businesses to secondary schools, come together to help out a common cause.

    On Nov. 22nd, 18 teams of community groups gathered at the Richmond Auto Mall for the 8th Annual Windows of Hope event, which raised a record-breaking $20,000 for the Richmond Christmas Fund.

    For the Auto Mall, the event is about “helping Richmond families in need,” said Gail Terry, General Manager of the Richmond Auto Mall Association. “And the need sure is great right now.”

    To raise the money, the dealerships at the mall give donations to have volunteers come by and paint their windows with holiday cheer. The dealerships also collect further donations from their suppliers and supporters.

     

     

    Thumbs up for a job well done!



    The event has grown tremendously from its first year, thanks in a large part to the partnership that developed between the Auto Mall and Volunteer Richmond. “That’s made all of the difference in the world,” said Terry.

    Along with the Richmond Auto Mall, sponsors who made the event possible include The Richmond Review, Chevron, HUB International and Murchie’s.

    And then there were the 140 amazing volunteers who took the time to come out to help paint this year.

    For their efforts they were entered into a draw to win prizes from sponsors, including a $25 gift card for Chevron and a pair of Vancouver Giants tickets, and were treated to a pizza dinner and other snacks.

     

     

     Windows of Hope volunteers take a look inside their gift bags.

     

    While being treated so well was a definite bonus to participating in the event, the biggest benefit the volunteers received was knowing that they were helping people in need.

    “It’s a great charity event,” said Caryn Barbosa, who was volunteering with Ashton Service Group. “Knowing that we are giving back is nice.”

    The students in McMath Secondary School’s Human Services course, taught by DiAnne Simonson, couldn’t agree more. “Volunteering is good for us,” said Stav Gamiel-Komar, a grade 12 student. “It gets us out in the community and makes us more aware of things going on around us.”

     

     

     Volunteers went to great lengths (and heights!) to make car dealerships' windows look as festive as possibe.



    For many of the volunteers this was not their first time out. “It’s one of those events we look forward to every year,” said Mary Kemmis, publisher of the Richmond Review. “It’s a wonderful team building event.”

    Delta Hotel’s volunteer committee, Delta Helps, has also been participating for multiple years. “This is one we love so we keep doing it,” said Sheri-Lynn Walker.

    While the event has come and gone, the windows will remain painted until Jan. 2nd, and donations are still being accepted online at christmasfund.volunteerrichmond.ca.

    Click here to view more photos from Windows of Hope.

     

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  • Time Well Spent: A Richmond Christmas Fund Volunteer's Vacation to Remember

    Hundreds of stories could be told about the Richmond Christmas Fund, and all of them would be equally inspiring. Some of our favourite, though, are about the volunteers who make the program possible. Take Cindy Morrison, for example. As Toy Room Coordinator for the second year running, she has an incredibly important role to play. How does she find the time to give back? By taking a vacation, of course! Volunteer writer Benjamin Yong spoke with Cindy about her unique holiday plans.

    For some people, like Richmond Christmas Fund volunteer Cindy Morrison, volunteering can be just as rewarding as taking a vacation. That is why she is spending her holidays this year giving back.

    Working in business development in the transportation industry, Morrison booked time off work so that she can reprise her role as the Christmas Fund Toy Room Coordinator.

    “Volunteering is one of my core values, and I believe that if we take from society when we have a need, it is important to give back to our community when we can,” she says.

    During the 2010 Winter Olympics, Morrison volunteered at the Richmond O Zone, where she welcomed 500,000 visitors to the city over 17 memorable days. It was through this experience that she first came in contact with Volunteer Richmond Information Services, which managed the O Zone’s volunteer program and also runs the Richmond Christmas Fund.

     

     

    We're petitioning to have this photo of Cindy Morrison added to the dictionary next to the word "dedication." We think we have a good case, given that Cindy is spending her winter vacation volunteering for the Richmond Christmas Fund.

     
    Morrison was already familiar with the Christmas Fund's Family Sponsorship Program, having coordinated the adoption of a family each year through her employer. So, when she received an e-mail from Volunteer Richmond seeking volunteers for the Christmas Fund’s 2010 season, she was quick to apply.

    Now, with a year’s experience under her belt, Morrison is looking forward to another successful campaign. “Knowing that we make a difference in the lives of so many underprivileged families during the holiday season puts a smile on my face.”

    As Toy Room Coordinator, Morrison, along with other team leaders, oversees the operations of the Christmas Fund’s own version of Santa’s workshop. Each year, the program receives over 3,000 toys (all of them donated). A group of dedicated volunteers, ranging from teens to seniors, prepares the toys for distribution, first sorting them into separate piles for boys and girls, then organizing them by age.

    On a typical day, Morrison meets with some of the volunteers assigned to her and briefs them on the duties of being a Toy Room Assistant. They then familiarize themselves with the toys in stock and restock anything that’s needed. When everything is ready, team leaders communicate via walkie talkies, letting each other know when families are ready to be brought in to choose their toys.

    But while Morrison is busy with her team giving gifts, she says she feels as lucky as the recipients.

    “I like the feeling that I am part of a community and have learned that what I receive in return is so much more important than the hours volunteered. I have met many incredible individuals and have been given the opportunity to utilize skills that are significantly different from my paid employment and that creates an outlet that inspires me.”

    To learn more about the Richmond Christmas Fund and the many ways in which you can support the program, click here.

     

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