By: John Campbell

EMC November 28, 2013

News – How’s this for out of the ordinary? Kids paying Santa a visit to drop off presents.

That’s right, they give Santa gifts – to distribute to families who are feeling the pinch this winter.

But, really, it’s not that unusual in Trent Hills. Firefighters and Community Living Campbellford/Brighton have been making it happen for years, and last week they had close to 200 kids from Hillcrest, Kent and St. Mary elementary schools drop by to fill Santa’s sleigh, said Dawn Lee, Community Living’s director of quality enhancement and community development.

“This is the best turnout we’ve had ever,” added Nancy Brown, the agency’s executive director. “Every year it continues to grow. The kids really enjoy coming, (and) the teachers are really supportive.”

She said the generosity of the children and their families “is very much appreciated” in making what has become a community event so successful.

Their help “does make a difference.”

She said Trent Hills Fire Chief Tim Blake has been “a real driving force” in helping the Christmas Wish Toy and Food Drive get better each year.

Close to 100 families were helped in 2012, “probably the highest we ever had,” Blake said.

Teachers at the local schools compile lists of students whose families are in need of toys and food, and anything left over is donated to the Salvation Army to hand out, Lee said.

“We’re looking at, hopefully, expanding to all the Trent Hills schools,” and include Hastings and Percy Centennial,” Blake said.

The 2013 toy and food drive kicked off with a new event, a motorcycle ride held in September, which was “a very big success,” yielding 55 toys and about $700, Blake said.

He was approached by John McEvoy and Murray Kirkland about holding a bike ride toy drive between the municipality’s three fire halls and the village of Trent River. Sixty-five people took par in the hour-long ride which finished at Campbellford where a barbecue was held The event gave the food and toy drive early “momentum … and that makes a big difference,” Brown said.

The same day the schoolchildren dropped by the resource centre, Nov. 19, boxes were delivered to various locations in the community where the public can drop off donations.

Samantha Mills, a Grade 3 teacher at Kent Public School, said her school dedicates a week of activities to raising funds for Christmas presents.

Families are nominated by teachers for assistance or they may come forward and “say they need a little extra this year,” she said.

“Most years we’re looking at close to 15 to 20 families,” Mills said. “We’ve got lots of thank you letters, they just appreciate it so much.”

People will be able to leave toys and food in the boxes until Dec. 12. On that day firefighters will go around to collect the donated goods to take to the Campbellford fire hall where teachers with lists will pick up the items their students have asked Santa to give them.

“It’s just wonderful that all the youth of our community have come out to help support other families who could use a little hand up,” said Trent Hills Mayor Hector Macmillan, who was the first to drop off presents in Santa’s sleigh at the Campbellford Community Resource Centre. “It’s something Sandy (his wife) and I really enjoy participating in every year and I’m just glad that there’s so many others in our community that are willing to do it and enjoy doing it. It’s heart-warming. There will be a lot of happy faces on Christmas day.”