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Santa helps feed people in need on the Island and area (8 photos)

Santa and Mrs. Claus take a drive around the Island collecting donations, waving hello

They stepped up to bring the United Way Harvest Algoma to St. Joseph Island because they saw a need; they opened a second restaurant during the heart of a pandemic and they helped those in need by offering a nutritious meal if someone could not afford it.

No one knows how much someone truly does for his or her community.

Roy and Mary Lou Eckmeier, owners of the Black Bear Café and Eatery have stepped up once again.

The Hilton Township couple are active contributors to their community.

Along with the publicly-known involvement in the community, they have coordinated a community effort to adopt two families for the holidays. 

In the past few weeks, Mary Lou organized what she hopes will become an annual event – the first mini-Santa parade across St. Joseph Island, a fundraiser for the St. Joseph Island and Area Foodbank.

Formerly of Cochrane, Alta., Mary Lou brought the idea to the Island after it was shared by a friend of hers who still resides there hoping the mini-parade will become an annual event.

Each year, the prairie town hosts its annual Santa Claus parade food drive to support their area food bank.

“It was a big hit,” she said.

“I felt with the pandemic there was little Christmas spirit and restriction on gatherings, we would bring a mini Santa parade to the Island,” she said.

This giving spirit is motivated by a quote by Viktor Frankl, author of Man’s Search for Meaning. “The sole purpose of human existence is to shine a light of hope in the darkness of mere being.”

Among the four volunteer drivers was Rod Wessell. Roy approached Rod to transport Santa Claus. Nora Wessell also stepped up and volunteered her time.

In their younger days, Rod and Nora volunteered a lot more in the community.

“As we get older, we are not out volunteering much anymore,” Nora said along the route.

With the pandemic, Nora can see people need help.

“It was a nice day for a Sunday drive,” she said.

Volunteer drivers included Kirsten Riddell and Kim Coulter. Volunteer junior elves included Thomas Riddell, Heyden Morrison, Heath Desjardin and Connor Coulter.

The entourage left the Black Bear Café and Eatery at about 1 p.m. setting out along Highway 548 toward Hilton Beach.

Practising all safety protocols, masked Santa waved and the elves greeted residents waiting at the end of their driveway where donations were left in animal-proof containers. Some handed their donation of food items or unwrapped gifts in person. In return, the donor received a wrapped package of homemade sugar cookies.

Santa didn't leave the vehicle.

The parade of vehicles visited as many streets as possible before the village, crossed Hilton Road reconnecting to Highway 548 toward Richards Landing visiting each street there as well.

The parade drew to a close having made 19 stops. Collected goods were unloaded at the food bank located at Harmony St. Mark’s United Church.

Plans for next year include increased advertising and something to draw people out of their homes.

Roy, who retired from Fed Ex and Mary Lou moved to the Island and opened the Black Bear Café and Eatery in May of 2019 fulfilling her dream of owning a café.

As for next year and the marina restaurant, Black Bear on the Dock, Roy and Mary Lou say they will wait and see if they will opening for the season next spring.