Every year at around this time, an Okotoks town councillor goes into elf mode to create a little magic in her community.
Avid Magic of Christmas volunteer Tanya Thorn is one of many elves who brings cheer into the homes of about 100 families and individuals in High River, Okotoks, Black Diamond and Turner Valley for one special day in December.
“I honestly don’t remember what got me started, but what had me coming back is it’s such a joyful kind of day,” she said. “There is something really rewarding to see the uplifting that you do for families in our region by coming and spending a little bit of time with them and giving them some joy of the season.”
Magic of Christmas is one of eight charities benefiting from the annual Western Wheel Cares charity campaign.
Every fall, dozens of elves work to collect donations of gifts to give to families and individuals who are referred to the Magic of Christmas.
Volunteers lovingly wrap the gifts and are joined by Santa Claus as they travel around the Foothills to personally hand them out.
Delivering the gifts is Thorn’s favourite part of volunteering for Magic of Christmas.
“There is nothing more rewarding than seeing kids so excited to see Santa, just the pure joy of that, and the real thankfulness that you see on the parents’ faces,” she said.
What Thorn admires about Magic of Christmas is the organization doesn’t only help those who are struggling financially. She said in some cases the recipients are dealing with loss, medical issues or isolation.
“We are truly there to give them a sense of joy and connectedness to their community and so they feel that they’re cared for,” she said.
For Thorn, it’s an opportunity to give back.
“I think that that’s a piece that sometimes we lose in today’s commercial Christmas is it is a season of giving,” she said. “It’s fun to be with a group of people who want to give back.”
Donna Cameron, one of the Magic of Christmas co-ordinators, said the program began in Calgary in 1983 and about 25 years ago it was adopted in the Foothills.
Every recipient is referred by professionals, such as teachers, social workers, ministers, doctors and dentists. The demand is met by as many as 100 elves who take on various tasks from collecting donations to delivering the gifts, said Cameron.
“The elves are great,” she said. “They are all good at their jobs.”
Last year’s elves visited 110 homes in the four communities with arms loaded with gifts, outdoor clothing and treats like candy and oranges, Cameron said.
“It gives them joy for an hour out of their day,” she said. “It takes them away from what is happening in their home and it’s a great feeling. It gives me great satisfaction to know that I’ve got 30 families in Okotoks who have all got smiles on their faces.”
The Magic of Christmas bus makes other stops along the way, not just the homes of the recipients.
“If we see a family out walking their dog the bus pulls over, Santa goes out and gives the dog treats and gives the kids some sort of toy or bag of candy and away we go again to the next stop,” Cameron said. “You just don’t just get on the bus and go from one house to another, we do lots of little stops along the way.”
Cameron said the elves are gearing up for delivery day Dec. 16, and that their hard work wouldn’t be possible without the generosity of the public who makes donations.
“Western Wheel Cares has helped us immensely,” she said. “If we find we are short we can go out and buy appropriate gifts. Before we weren’t really able to do that.”
Cameron considers people in the Okotoks area as very giving.
“We are very blessed in this community,” she said. “Even when the economy is struggling I can’t believe the amount of donations we get.”
Donations to the Wheel Cares Campaign can be made via credit card, debit, cash or cheque (payable to Western Wheel Cares) at #9 McRae Street, mailed to Box 150 Okotoks, AB T1S 2A2 (please do not mail cash) or by calling 403-938-6397. Visit www.westernwheel.com to donate using Paypal. Donations of $10 or more will receive a 2017 official tax receipt at the end of the campaign. For more information call the Western Wheel office Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 403-938-6397 or email Gayle Wolf at firstname.lastname@example.org