By ALAN SHACKLETON
The annual Beaches Santa Claus Parade will not be taking place this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It is sad, in that it is considered the kick off of our Share a Christmas program and it brings such joy to the community,” said Debbie Visconti, executive director of Community Centre 55 which presents both the parade and organizes Share a Christmas.
This year would have marked the 15th annual Beaches Santa Claus Parade along Kingston Road. It usually takes place on the last Sunday in November.
Along with providing youngsters a chance to see Santa, the parade also raises awareness of and launches the fundraising, food and toy donation drives for the annual Share a Christmas campaign which helps support East Toronto families in need over the holiday season.
Though there can’t be a live parade this year, Visconti said Community Centre 55 is hoping to post a video of past parade highlights on its website in November.
This will be the 39th year for Community Centre 55’s Share a Christmas. Last year close to 1,000 families were helped. The economic and social impacts of COVID-19 means there is a huge need among many people in the community this year for help from Share a Christmas, Visconti said.
The closures to stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus have also impacted how Community Centre 55 operated over the past months. Visconti said this year’s Share a Christmas campaign will have to be run a bit differently, and community contributions and support are going to be critically important.
“We are still here to help the community as we have done for many years, but we really need the community’s help too,” said Visconti. “We anticipate an increase in the number of families needing our help with providing Christmas for their children. So more than ever we would truly appreciate the financial help of the community. Neighbours helping neighbours.”
One of the changes for this year’s Share a Christmas campaign is that donations of foods cannot be accepted.
“In order to ensure the safety of the staff, volunteers and the families receiving Christmas help we will not be collecting food donations for distribution,” Visconti said.
New toys, retail gift cards and cash donations are still being accepted. Stuffed animal toys cannot be accepted this year. Visconti said the most effective way residents can support the 2020 campaign is by donating money which Community Centre 55 can then use to purchase the most needed items and grocery store gift cards with.
“Donate money for our purchase of FreshCo gift cards and toys,” she said.
In past years, Community Centre 55 would be packed with volunteers sorting donations in the days leading up to the distribution of its Share a Christmas hampers full of food, toys and other items. Due to COVID-19 that won’t be happening as the main focus of this year’s campaign will be providing the families in need with FreshCo gift cards.
“Recipients will pick up their gift cards and toys,” explained Visconti. “Some may be delivered by workers, property managers, and some will be delivered by CC55 volunteers.”
Joining in the Adopt a Family and the Adopt a Senior programs which are part of Share a Christmas would also be extremely helpful, said Visconti. “If people/businesses want to take a family and provide them Christmas directly they can,” she said.
For information on how to Adopt a Family or Adopt a Senior, please call program director Evonne Hossack at 416-691-1113, ext. 222.
Also, Hossack said contributions to the Teen Angel Program for teenaged family members are much needed as that is an age group that is often not thought of given most toy donations are for younger children.
The Teen Angel Program is especially in need of gift card donations in the amounts of $30 and $50 for stores such as SportChek, H & M, Walmart and Shoppers Drug Mart.
Those making cash donations to this year’s campaign will receive a Hamper’s Share a Christmas tax receipt.
Cash donations can be made online by visiting the Community Centre 55 website at https://www.centre55.com/ and clicking on the Donate Now button. Cash donations can also be made by E-transfer to firstname.lastname@example.org. Community Centre 55 says a password does not need to be sent for the E-transfers, but they must be designated as being for Share a Christmas.
Residents can also drop off donations of cash, cheques of gift cards in person at Community Centre 55, 97 Main St. New toy donations will also be accepted in person, but the centre’s hours are limited due to the pandemic. At this time, donations can be dropped off in person on Monday to Friday from 9:15 a.m. to 2:45 p.m.; and also on Tuesday evenings from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. and Wednesday evenings from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m.
Donation hours will be extended closer to Christmas, so please check the Community Centre 55 website for updates.