Unlike the Grinch who stole Christmas, COVID will alter some of the traditional Christmas Cheer operations but it won’t diminish the impact it will make on an expected 1,650 recipients.
“We have so many dedicated people who look after specific areas of Christmas Cheer such as intake, applications, toys, food or office work and they know how it works year-after-year,” says Diane Marshall, Christmas Cheer program convenor since 2004. “Typically we only need two meetings, leading up to when things get rolling in November, and this year we’ve had 6 meetings.” Harvest Algoma, a new partner with the program, at the former Croatian Hall on Second Line has enabled the volunteers, often referred to as Santa’s Senior elves, to assemble for meetings while still socially distancing.
“We have such a strong team of volunteers that have put forth their concerns and questions concerning our operation during this pandemic and we’ve made decisions as a group that ultimately will see a more refined Christmas Cheer process this season,” says Marshall.
This year, social distancing protocols means fewer volunteers and they can’t be working side-by-side in their usual North Pole workshop style. Sanitary practices mean new toys only. Allowance will be made for children’s books in a clean, like-new condition. A popular traditional mainstay, knitting, will continue.
“We have people who knit all year long to supply us with much-appreciated mittens, socks and toques,” says Marshall. “The Knitting Club at the Seniors’ Drop-in Centre donates hundreds of knitted items every year.”
Donations received must be set aside in isolation for several days before packing.
The fresh food and dry goods usually packed by numerous volunteers is now a streamlined group handling dry goods only. A grocery gift card will now replace the normal Christmas dinner fixings.
This year’s Christmas Cheer depot, now located at the former Walmart location in the Station Mall, opened for donations on November 16. Delivery Day occurs on December 16.
“It’s not too late to drop off your new donations, which might include batteries. Many of the toys are action items requiring batteries, and we definitely want them to be working on the morning of the 25th! Other items might include games, puzzles, personal hygiene products, gift cards for the teens, crafts and stocking stuffers.”
“We are happy to report that office staffs and businesses that are now working from home have found ways to continue supporting Christmas Cheer - their donations continue to arrive daily at the depot."
"Our program has a longstanding partnership with the Salvation Army. Those missed by our program will seek assistance from the Salvation Army. Captain Sean Furby and his small dedicated staff do an incredible job helping those less fortunate."
There are 50 sub-depots where the Army Reserves for the 49th Field Regiment and 33rd Battalion, Sault Ste. Marie Firefighters, plus a host of volunteers will ensure the boxes are shipped. Recipients then collect their boxes from these sub- depots. “We use every church and hall in our community and we serve families as far north as Batchewana and east to Bruce Mines,” says Marshall. “There are too many people to list who play a vital role in the success of the Christmas Cheer program. Those unable to assist this year, especially on Packing Day, due to COVID restrictions, will be greatly missed.”
“COVID has forced us to take a strong look at our operation and that is good for any organization,” says Diane. “We just had to find the safest way to have our program continue to assist those families in need. With everyone’s dedicated efforts, we are thrilled that our program will happen. Yes, Virginia, there is Christmas Cheer in Sault Ste. Marie in 2020!”
How can you help? In addition to donating toys and other children’s gifts, you might consider making a donation of money to the Santa Fund. This fund allows us to purchase the food, grocery gift cards and necessary supplies for our program. Donations will be received at the front desk of the main depot until December 16th or can be mailed to “Sault Star Santa Fund”, 885 Goulais Avenue, Sault Ste. Marie, ON, P6A 5K8.
This SooToday Spotlight was made possible through the support of Arthur Funeral Home – Barton & Kiteley Memorial Chapel.
“Christmas Cheer is a network of volunteer elves who work tirelessly in a very short time frame to make such a large impact in families lives during the festive season,” says Joni Cooke, General Manager, Arthur Funeral Home – Barton & Kiteley Chapel. “We hope the people of Sault Ste. Marie will join us in donating to support such a great cause.”