Inspiring holiday stories around the Strait area

Readers of The Reporter did not have to go far to find some hopeful holiday stories.

The spirit of the season started early as on November 13, Carol and Laura Marryatt travelled to the IWK Children’s Hospital in Halifax, via a Strait Area Transit shuttle, to deliver approximately $9,000 worth of toys for young patients.

Carol said the load included 15 large boxes and a number of large toys – including keyboards, train sets, dolls, Legos, blankets, and bead-making kits – which were picked up by the health care facility’s Child Life Services team.

Among the donated toys for children, ranging from babies to those 18 years of age, Carol noted were 16 large gingerbread houses, each with their own elf.

Their effort was in memory of their son and brother Jason Marryatt who died on August 20, 2017 at the age of 21 after a lengthy battle with Ewings Sarcoma. During his illness, Jason stayed at the IWK for six months after breaking his femur.

Carol explained that the toy drive “keeps his memory alive” because her son “loved to give.”

Not only does the toy drive help the family deal with its grief during the holidays, Carol said also helps other children and families and has brought joy into their lives.

“It’s a good Christmas feeling for us because when you lose one of the family, Christmas is never the same. But now it gives us a little bit more of that Christmas spirit to be able to do this.”

In addition to her thanks to Strait Area Transit for providing transportation, Carol was also very grateful to the residents of Isle Madame for their generosity again this year, helping build what she hopes will be an annual event.

Not far away, in Petit de Grat, the second annual “Light Up Lundrigan Lane,” took place on December 15 with proceeds going to the Pay It Forward Angel Fund.

One of the lane’s residents, Josette Marchand, said the idea started about a decade ago as friendly competition among neighbours and relatives in Lundrigan Lane who put out more and more Christmas decorations each year.

Three years ago, Marchand said residents started noticing more and more vehicles travelling down the lane to look at the decorations, so they started talking about organizing a fundraiser.

Last year, residents decided to open the lane to visitors, with hot chocolate and cookies, asking for donations to the Hearts of Isle Madame. They ended up raising $1,400.

This year, more residents put up decorations, and those who decorated last year, put up even more lights. Marchand estimated there are at least 10,000 lights in the cul-de-sac, including a recreation of Who-ville.

Acknowledging the amount of time, expense and planning that goes into the event, Marchand explained they start organizing each event at the beginning of the year, then they start decorating in late September.

On December 22, this year’s beneficiary of the event, the Pay It Forward Angel Fund – serving Isle Madame and Louisdale residents who’ve had a life-changing illness – hosted an event on the lane.

Although it is a lot of work organizing the event, Marchand added it is worthwhile when they see people smiling.

Meanwhile, Antigonish native Eric Anstey decided on a creative way to raise money for a deserving charity over the holidays.

Whether it’s dressing as Cousin Eddie from Christmas Vacation, donning a tutu, or eating a habanero pepper, Anstey goes to some hilarious ends. And when asked why he participates in these situations, Anstey says it’s all about his cousin, Rylee Sears.

Since 2016, Anstey participated in the “12 Dares of Christmas,” where he accepts dares from the public to collect donations for the Rylee Sears Scholarship Fund. Sears passed away in 2015 at the age of 16 after contracting meningitis.

Other dares along the way included singing carols dressed as an elf, chugging milk, and cutting down a Christmas tree in a bikini.

Anstey says the 12 Dares events in the last three years raised around $15,000 for the scholarship. He says it’s possible next year might be the last year for the dares but he isn’t sure at this point.

For more information on the dares or how to donate, please visit the 12 Dares of Christmas page on Facebook.

For more than 40 years, Seasonal Services has been making Christmas brighter for Strait area families by delivering food and gifts to those who need it most.

Members Joanne MacDonald and Joe Praught have been involved since the beginning, helping to organize a team of six core volunteers, with an additional 30 to 40 people helping in different capacities once the work ramps up.

Sandra Praught, another main organizer, says the recruitment process is an easy task since many volunteers come forward on their own.

Planning for the season starts at the beginning of November for the Christmas season. The group reaches out for donations from local businesses and the community, and identifies those in need. The list of recipients is then organized to facilitate distribution and delivery, which usually takes place the last Sunday before Christmas.

Families in the Port Hawkesbury/Port Hastings catchment area are thankful for the community’s generosity, and for the discretion shown to those who benefit.

With the need for support in the community greater than ever during the holidays, Seasonal Services has made a significant impact in alleviating some challenges for local families. Praught says that over the years the need has grown, but so has the support for their work.

To find inspiration this time of year, readers need not look too far, because there are heroes right in their backyard, selflessly helping others.

After all, isn’t that what this time of year is all about.