Renfrew -- More than 260 local children will have at least one wrapped present under the Christmas Tree thanks to the generosity of about 30 volunteers who handed out not only presents, but a large frozen turkey to about 120 motorists who drove through Mateway Park on Sunday night as part of the Santa Cause 2020.
Organizers Katie Skerkowski and Bernie Skerkowski, a Valley native who has called Tampa Bay home the last 12 years, asked the volunteers, made up of family and friends, one simple question.
“We asked them What Would Santa Do,” Mr. Skerkowski told the Leader while he and a few others were busy hanging lights in the trees at Mateway Park Friday. “All we have heard is negative things about this Christmas and how COVID has taken away the Christmas spirit and people are giving up on the true meaning of Christmas and they have forgotten just how good it feels to actually perform an act of kindness, even more when it is a complete stranger.”
The response to that question was overwhelming and on full display as vehicles were lined up as far as one could see as they entered the parking lot at Mateway Park, a parking lot that was transformed into a colourful display of lights, one of the most colourful and genuine Christmas events seen anywhere in the year of COVID.
“I have been part of the What Would Santa Do Foundation in Tampa Bay for several years and it is amazing to be part of something that asks for nothing in return and it sponsors generous events such as this in order to help spread kindness and happiness to others when times are tough,” Mr. Skerkowski added. “This year especially with COVID and everything being cancelled, we want to do is pass along a little kindness.”
He said money raised to purchase the hundreds of presents and turkeys was donated anonymously and all the donors asked in return was that everyone follow their example and perform at least one act of kindness through the holidays.
“Even better, imagine a world where everyone performed a random act of kindness every day of the year. Can you imagine what kind of world we would have?” he asked enthusiastically. “We are not trying to take the place of the food bank or Salvation Army or anyone else. 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, all they have to do is give us a call and we put them on the list for Sunday night.”
When Mr. Skerkowski was stringing lights at Mateway Friday, their initial list consisted of 113 turkey requests and presents for 267 children. He expected that number to increase by the time vehicles began lining up at 5:30 on Sunday. The steady stream filed through the parking lot up until 8:30 when the volunteers began packing up.
Mr. Skerkowski has been part of the Tampa Bay WWSD Foundation for 14 years and said the movement has given out more than $250,000 to local families. He is excited about hosting an event in Canada for the first time.
“This will be my first Christmas in Renfrew in many years and I am here for awhile because of COVID travel restrictions so I talked to Katie (Skerkowski) about doing a giant act of kindness and helping as many people as we could have a good Christmas,” he said. “It didn’t take her long to round up 30 folks who just want to help their neighbours.”
When he came up with the idea they decided to budget for 150 families and 300 presents and was hopeful all the items would be claimed on Sunday evening. More importantly, he was hopeful his one message of giving is heard by other communities and they in turn host an event that is all about anonymous giving.
“I don’t care how much you say you are not in the Christmas spirit this year, and believe me I have heard plenty of people saying COVID ruined Christmas,” he said. “I can tell you if you show up here on Sunday night and see the Christmas lights and hear the music and you will see the smiles on the children’s faces. You will see mom and dad breathe a huge sigh of relief and not have to worry about Christmas morning. Then there is no way you won’t want to share the Christmas spirit.
“That is the one thing I hope happens. If enough people see what 30 or so volunteers can do in one evening to help their neighbours, then they will realize they can do it too. My dream is to see this catch like wildfire and spring up in every town and these simple acts of kindness can bring happiness in a world with so much despair right now.”
Bruce McIntyre, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader