Local residents applauded and cheered as a convoy of red and white pickup trucks filled with presents drove away from the General Motors Oshawa Assembly Plant on Wednesday, but the moment was tinged with sadness.

This may be the last time GM employees in Oshawa take part in the program, after 50 successful years.

The drive started in 1968, after an employee suggested that instead of exchanging gifts, staff pool their money together and buy something for a family in need.

Sharon Clark, who has since retired, said she collected $24 from her coworkers and purchased food, clothing and toys for a single mother and her baby that year.

“The mother sent a letter saying thank you for remembering us,” she told CTV News Toronto. “And when I got that letter I took it to work and said to the girls, now you see, we have made a difference in somebody’s life. They were overjoyed.”

This year, following news that General Motors will be closing its assembly plant in Oshawa, the 2018 Holiday Hope gift hamper program feels bittersweet.

“The employees at General Motors are the most generous souls on earth,” Sharon Clark, the employee who spearheaded the project, told CTV News Toronto. “I’m sorry General Motors is closing, but you know that when one door closes, another opens, and who knows what’s in the future. It (the hamper program) may still go on somewhere, I’m hoping. It is a very emotional day.”

Over the years, the employees of the Oshawa plant have supported close to 2,000 families, including more than 6,000 children.

The Holiday Hope gift hamper program is facilitated by the Durham Children’s Aid Foundation (DCAF). It is what Clark calls a “personal shopping” experience.”

Social workers provide DCAF with information about a family in need, including the age and size of the children and a list of what that child wants for Christmas.

The foundation then shares that description with corporations like General Motors and employees personally shop for gifts.

“They shopped as if it was for their children,” Clark said.

DCAF was already set to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the organization’s holiday partnership with GM this year, with a toy convoy through downtown Oshawa. The celebration, they said, became even more important when they heard about the plant closure.

“We have no idea if this is going to end. It’s been 50 years and if it is going to be the last one we want to finish with a bang,” said Siân Gibson, executive director of DCAF. “We had this idea last summer that we wanted to celebrate 50 years of a partnership, and then with news of the closure, we’ve realized it’s turned into something of a celebration of a 50-year relationship and it has turned into thankfulness and appreciation “

Escorted by Durham Regional Police, truckloads of toys left the General Motors Oshawa Assembly Plant to be transported to the DCAF offices. Businesses were encouraged to come outside and show their appreciation to the employees of General Motors by “clapping them out” as the trucks passed.

As the trucks navigated the roadway, fellow drivers honked at the convoy and flashed their lights.

When the GM employees arrived at the DCAF officers, they were greeted by cheers, applause, and the sound of Christmas carols being sung. Volunteers and staff wearing reindeer ears and holiday sweatshirts gave them hugs and helped carry the hamper donations into the building.

“This is quite a celebration,” Clark said. “It is a celebration of the goodness that the General Motors people have bestowed on this charity.”

This year, the GM employees sponsored 45 families in Durham region.