Eric Bunnell's People: Christmas Care during the 'New Normal'

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This year.

“It’s a year of thank yous,” Worth Chisolm said Friday as he addressed a small, masked and distanced gathering at the opening of the 2020 Christmas Care campaign. He is chair of the organization and this year’s campaign is the 41st annual.


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The thanks go to the volunteers, the organizations, the community that continue to support the charity, founded to ensure that no one goes without a Christmas with food and presents.

That support may be especially important this year, as we approach a Christmas that is clouded by COVID-19. Christmas Care has reorganized its physical operations and has built and installed a UV disinfector for donations at its Elgin Centre location. This is the third year the mall has donated the 28,000-square-foot space.

But how many families will register this year? Last year, Christmas Care served just over 1,400. This year, Richard Auckland, a spokesman, said the organization has talked the possibility of 1,500. That’s a seven per cent increase.

“Donations are starting to come in,” Richard notes.

Christmas Care began registering on Monday this week. In the first two days of this year’s campaign (they were closed Wednesday for Remembrance Day), 66 families signed up. That’s about the norm from other years but, as Richard says, “When the weather is 20 C, you don’t think about Christmas.”

And, indeed, this week began with record-breaking temperatures.

Christmas Care is to set up a food drive Friday and Sunday downtown at Food Basics. (The anti-mask protest set for Saturday in town has disrupted the collection that day. Thoughtful of them!)

Also speaking last Friday at the opening, St. Thomas police Insp. Steve Bogart. The police service and its members have been ongoing supporters of Christmas Care and its annual campaign.


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“We know the amount of time put into this directly benefits the community, and the wellness of the community.”

Details at

Christmas Care in the time of a new normal Christmas.

This year!

Save the dates!

A very, very important save the date. Indeed, save the dates (plural)!

The St. Thomas reverse Santa Claus parade now has been calendared for Dec. 4, 5 *and* 6 at Pinafore Park from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. nightly. And a call is out for entries.

From the St. Thomas and District Chamber of Commerce:

“With the support of Mayor Preston and the City of St. Thomas, MPP Yurek and MP Vecchio are delivering a centrally located event over three nights that we hope brings people joy and hope this holiday season.

“The plan: to have community groups, businesses, and service clubs from across Elgin-Middlesex-London install lit-up floats or stationary displays along the roadway in Pinafore Park that people can drive by.

“Email: if you’re interested in joining this holiday event!”

The parade traditionally has been led by a food collection for Christmas Care, and the agency says it plans to be there again this year, receiving donations for itself and to share with other local food banks.

Another parade

The Aylmer Kinsmen are planning a similar drive-by parade from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Nov. 28 in the parking lot of East Elgin Community Centre

A modern-day record

Richard is right. Well, except for the stores which already have the holidays on their shelves, and the early birds who already have put up decorations — before Remembrance Day!


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Who in their right mind could think of Christmas this week?

There were shorts and shirtsleeves around town to start the week on Sunday when the mercury hit 22 C. That set a modern-day record for the day.

In the second week of November, for gosh sakes. I know the forecasters said we would enjoy a long, open fall. But, honestly. Just a year ago Sunday, the thermometer struggled to get above zero. And there was snow on the ground. Indeed, a lot of snow.

To be truthful, we did have that slight snowfall the weekend before last. And I’m sure that isn’t it for the year. But leading up to Sunday, Friday’s 20-degree high also set a record. As did Saturday’s 20.

After Sunday, Monday’s 22 was another record. Tuesday’s 22-degree high, also. And Wednesday’s 17, although cooler, was one for the books, as well.

We didn’t drive to Port Stanley on Sunday. There already was a long line of cars on Wellington Road headed in that direction. Instead, we ran errands around town. Taking the long way around. Ferguson Line a couple concessions north of the city is a lovely crosstown route.

There were more folks enjoying Pinafore Park on Sunday than I have seen on some sunny summer weekends. Ditto Dalewood reservoir.

And I never have seen so many people at Waterworks.

Though downtown largely was quiet, I did spot one person enjoying the soap bubbles floating from the storefront at Simply Wicked.

Well, why not?

Boy. I thought I sure was ahead of the game when I sewed this year’s poppy real good onto my winter coat so as to not lose yet another one this Remembrance Day. Fortunately, I found a spare after I got my spring jacket out.


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But as they do, all good things have come to an end with more seasonable weather now upon us.

Yet, there’s still some sunshine in the forecast until Sunday. And until we get locked up indoors, enjoy!

A virtual Royal

Even The Royal Agricultural Winter Fair is virtual this year.

I laugh how delicate-nosed city folks moved away on the streetcar that year I returned from a visit to the Royal with barn clothes. They won’t have to this year, although I’d be more likely to keep away from them. Toronto being a hotspot, you know.

(Gosh. And have you ever smelled those Toronto drains when you cross the street? Makes our stinky St. Thomas sewage treatment plant seem almost a sweet neighbour!)

Online, this year’s Royal certainly is accessible, including Metro’s Spotlight on Local celebrating “the very best in local food being grown, produced and manufactured in Ontario.”

Two of those very best being featured are Shaw’s Ice Cream and Living Alive Granola, both local and both available on Metro shelves.

“This program is especially important this year, as many small businesses have been severely impacted by the pandemic,” Emma Higgins says on behalf of the Spotlight.

“As the largest indoor agricultural fair in the world, it is a huge accomplishment to be showcased at The Royal, especially smaller businesses,” she also says.

And there’s a contest to win stuff, too.

The Royal runs through Saturday but the virtual fair’s online content will be available on demand through the coming year.


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To register to visit the virtual fair, click to

Award winner

And to note that in the Royal’s food competitions, Mike Woods’ Knotty Coppertop apiary, Union, won professional beekeeper’s cut comb honey category, and had second-place ribbons for granulated honey and whole comb.

Anti-mask rally

Police reported no major incidents at the anti-mask protest on Saturday in Aylmer that drew an estimated 1,500 people from as far away as Toronto, and which shuttered many businesses on Talbot Street.

But there was video of an unpleasant moment making the rounds of Facebook earlier this week.

A man washing his car as protesters marched by sprayed them with his hose. It’s not exactly clear how the interaction started. It may be the protesters called him out for masking. Parade marshals intervened to defuse what threatened to become a nasty situation.


Another so-called Freedom Rally is planned for Saturday in St. Thomas. (A number of shops downtown are closing for the afternoon, with plans to open at 5 p.m. for a Moonlight Masquerade promotion. Fun.)

I’m puzzled that anti-maskers feel they can exercise some sort of freedom to infect others. But there you have it! Police Chief Chris Herridge has warned protesters they face charges.

Prior to the Aylmer demo, Dr. Joyce Lock, the area’s medical officer of health, issued a plea to protesters: “When it come to our health, our families, and our community, we feel passionately. That passion is driving people to come together in various ways to express their thoughts about the public health measures designed to stop the spread of COVID-19. … At a stage in the pandemic where cases are not only rising provincially, but rising locally, large gatherings where social distancing is not maintained are not safe.


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“Ontario’s Emergency Orders indicate that outdoor gatherings should be of no more than 25 people. If an outbreak were to occur in a group larger than this, contact tracing and containment of the virus becomes virtually impossible and the significant consequences of ill health will be felt across the entire community.

“Our case count is in your hands, please protect the community you love by avoiding crowds.”

Meanwhile, this week is Friday the 13th, a date which usually draws bikers by the thousands to Port Dover. The last Friday the 13th was on a cool day in March at the start of the pandemic but there still were hundreds of visitors. This Friday, the town has asked them to stay away. Wonder what will happen there.

Stay safe.

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