A Community Care Christmas

The scene was Christmas card perfect. Dozens of would-be elves, Santa Claus, a sprinkling of snow and four-year-old Alexis Stevenson.

All were gathered at Community Care of St. Catharines and Thorold Tuesday afternoon. The jubilant carol-singing “elves” — more than 100 employees from Walker Industries — had spent their morning buying enough food, clothing, gifts and diapers to fill 76 boxes for the non-profit agency. Many of the Santa-cap-wearing workers arrived at Community Care in the afternoon to deliver the truck-load of holiday booty. But Alexis, her mom, Robyn, and 16-month-old brother, Evan, were there for a different reason. They are clients of the North Street organization and are among hundreds in Niagara in need of extra help this Christmas.

Demand for the organization’s services is up 30 per cent this year, while donations are down. It was a chance meeting in the Community Care parking lot that brought blond-haired Alexis together with Santa (played by former Walker president John Walker) for a heartwarming holiday moment. “I made a special trip here just to see you,” Santa said as he scooped Alexis into his arms to a chorus of awes coming from the crowd of about 100 elves. “Can you tell me what you want for Christmas?” “A dolly,” little Alexis said.

Afterwards, single mother Robyn said it’s been a tough year for her family, which relies on social assistance to get by. Without Community Care, Robyn said Christmas at her house would have been pretty bleak. She’s received five toys for each of her children thanks to Christmas donations. “Knowing that there’s people here to help is good,” Stevenson, 23, said. “It reduces the stress a little bit.” It’s families like the Stevensons that prompted Walker Industries, a waste transportation company based in Niagara Falls, into action this Christmas.

The corporation decided not to send out gifts to clients, but rather buy items for those in need. said Jackie Phelan of Walker Industries. John Walker matched all donations made by the company. Grouped in teams of four, employee elves fanned out across the city to buy everything from food to boys pyjamas to diapers to gift cards to hockey sticks to curling irons. The company made its last mass holiday donation in 2002, but saw great need again this year. “I think it’s because times are tough,” said Phelan, who declined to reveal how much money was spent on the Christmas goods. “We just thought of giving back to the community and John Walker wanted to do it as well.” Pam Barton, a Walker human resources employee, called the experience “emotional.” “You feel so good about doing something,” Barton said. “We do little things ourselves in our HR department, we sponsor a family. But on this magnitude it just feels like, ‘Wow.’ Together we can do so much.’ ”

Community Care CEO Betty-Lou Souter said the donation will help the organization meet its fundraising goal. “This is going to help us get closer to the finish line,” Souter said. “But we still have a heck of a way to go.” The organization is about half way to meeting it’s $350,000 holiday target, Souter said.