Santa brings smiles and gifts to 300 children in Renfrew

·4 min read

Renfrew -- For the second year in a row, the Christmas Spirit is alive and well in Renfrew thanks to a visit from Santa Claus who brought along enough turkey dinners to feed 150 families and 300 wrapped presents for local children.

It was all part of the second annual What Would Santa Do (WWSD) event held at Renfrew’s Ma-Te-Way Park Sunday night.

A total of 150 families pre-registered, an increase of 35 more than last year which could be a sign of the times more people are having a tough time as the COVID pandemic has been existence for 21 months.

Looking around at all the smiling faces, there was little talk of COVID. Instead most people were focused on the brilliant display of 6,000 Christmas lights that welcomed Santa and he arrived to the delight of the group, a group brought together by a small 20-member volunteer team led by Katie Skerkowski.

“We were so lucky that Santa found the time to come to Renfrew tonight,” she said. “Last year we heard negative things about Christmas and how COVID has taken away the Christmas spirit and people were giving up on the true meaning of Christmas. Some may have forgotten just how good it feels to actually perform an act of kindness, even more when it is a complete stranger.”

With her bubbly smile and energetic personality, Ms. Skerkowski was able to point out the blessings of the season while she and many of the volunteers ran around having fun and helping others and finding time to keeping warm themselves.

“Oh sure it’s a little chillier than last year, but it’s nothing our group can’t handle. We are helping Santa give about 300 wrapped gifts for all the kids coming out this year and that is what keeps our volunteers motivated. We are proud to be part of the What Would Santa Do network that provides this service.”

The long, slow lineup of vehicles and the sea of red tail lights looked like a scene out of the movie Field of Dreams as drivers waited patiently for the signal to enter the parking lot and meet the volunteers. Then they drove by a series of stations manned by volunteers who handed out Santa’s presents, provided hot chocolate, received letters to Santa, and a bag containing a frozen turkey, a box of stuffing, vegetables, instant potatoes and gravy. The stations were very bright thanks to the 6,000 light bulbs strung in the trees the day before. All was made possible by the WWSD Foundation and the volunteers.

“There are more people registered this year over last year,” Ms. Skerkowski said. “I am glad we have such a generous community. All we are doing is letting people know that if they are in a spot where they could use a little help with Christmas dinner or getting a present for their kids we are here to help.”

She came up with the idea last year when she encouraged her friends to ask their neighbours, favourite business or anyone they knew, a simple question.

“Last year we asked them What Would Santa Do?”

Once again she called on her Uncle Bernie Skerkowski, a Valley native who has called Tampa Bay home the last 14 years. He has been involved with the WWSD network and was a good resource to launch the event and organize a second one.

“This just shows how one little act of kindness will not only make the other person feel special, but for our group, the joy we all feel knowing we are making sure these families have something under the tree is indescribable.

“It may be cold tonight, but seeing all this happen, it just brings warmth,” is how Kathy Black described her volunteer experience. It was hard not to deny as her face was beaming with joy when she handed a present to Hailey Maxwell, who, with a quiet whisper, said thanks to the volunteer.

When the last vehicle drove by Santa, the cleanup began and everyone, including St. Nick himself, had smiles on their faces as they took down the lights, packed up the tables and took it all away for another year feeling good about having brought smiles to many this holiday season.

Bruce McIntyre, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader

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