This is one of a series of articles, as part of the feature called "Helpers", which focuses on people and organizations that help make our community better.
With all the snow that has hit the area over the last 24 hours, people’s attention has turned to the holiday season. It’s at this time of year where giving is top of mind and there may not be one organization that gives back more to the people in need than the Santa Fund.
Lachlan McLachlan has been the individual who has largely overseen the Santa Fund since 1989 when he was asked to take over as Chair.
“I came to town in 1981 and joined the Kiwanis Club which was involved with the Santa Fund. We did a lot of the interviews with the clients to make sure they were eligible and make sure we knew how to get to their house or apartment. I visited the clients for the first several years and they really don’t have the same means as other people have” says McLachlan.
“In 1989, Art Haley had some failing health and it was actually former mayor Stan Lawlor and long-time journalist at the North Bay Nugget Colin Vezina who asked me to take over as Chair that year. Since then we’ve just been continuing to do what we do. Scott Clark came on as co-chair and now he is the Chair this year.”
But the Santa Fund was already 30 years old by the time McLachlan came aboard.
“This charity started back during the Christmas of 1948 when Haley, who was the fire chief at the time, and a fellow by the name of Sam Jacks who was the Recreational Director for the city and a businessman in the downtown area and they knew about 25-30 families in the area that were not going to have the fortune of having the same kind of Christmas that most people have every year,” says McLachlan.
“It began right there, and it has obviously blossomed as the city got bigger. When things would get a little more difficult for people, the Santa Fund would step in and help. Over the years there would be people on the list for one year but gone the next because they would find some work and find a better living situation for themselves and for their families.”
2020 marks the 73rd anniversary of the North Bay Santa Fund
McLachlan adds they have come a long way to modernize the organization since he joined.
“The very first year I was there, Healy’s wife Doris was still involved and she showed me the ropes and we were operating with typewriters and doing everything in a manner that you’d think we were stuck in the 1950s,” he says.
“But Lana Mitchell and her team from L.I.P.I. (Low Income People Involvement of Nipissing) as well as Scott Clark and his team at Clark Marketing Communications have really brought us up to speed and helped us adapt to this social media world as well as the ability to get information and statistics that we really need to move forward and plan for the next year. You can now also go online to Santafund.ca and all you have to do is press the donate button and then you get your tax receipt immediately.”
McLachlan says being part of the reason a family can have a merry Christmas is one of the biggest thrills he’s ever experienced.
“They are all so appreciative of what we are doing, and as far as I know, there is no other city that gives toys and clothing and food to the needy and deliver it to them. It’s a big difference for us being able to make those deliveries. It’s so heartwarming to see that at Christmas. They get extra food that they can use at a very important time.”
As with most things in 2020, there are new protocols the Santa Fund volunteers have to adapt to.
“This year we aren’t able to have as many volunteers operate with us because of the protocols,” says McLachlan. “But we’re doing the best we can and we do have a number of volunteers at the 33rd Service Battalion at the armouries, and they are helping extensively this year by packing the baskets, which is going to take place at Memorial Gardens. From there we’re going to have some deliveries made on the 23rd of December.”
McLachlan added, “Hats off to the city and certainly Melinda Fry (Manager of Sports and Events) for being the catalyst in making that happen and allowing us to use Memorial Gardens.”
Aside from the personal joy of being a part of this group, McLachlan says the other aspect that amazes him is the generosity of the community toward the Santa Fund.
“No matter when we have asked people to help us, people have come forward,” he says. “We come together as the Santa Fund family and it is just so important that it happens. These people donate a lot of time to pull this thing off. I know there are various people and groups and businesses that do different projects and make donations themselves. We’ve had a couple that has made some very generous donations, including a business that made a $17,000 donation one year, which is more than 10 per cent of our required total. They fundraise all year and pick a couple of charities to benefit from that. There is some great work happening in our community and if you ever wonder about the giving spirit in North Bay well it's right there, it’s wonderful.”
Lachlan says their goal is to raise $150,000 and throughout the month there are many ways you can get involved throughout the community.
From 9 a.m. to 1 p.m, Monday to Friday (starting December 6) you can make a donation at the Nugget,” says McLachlan.
“They have been supporting the Santa Fund for so many years and the partnership has been wonderful. And then Moose FM will be having their Moose Radio-A-Thon. Starting at 6 a.m. on Friday you can go down to the Moose on Main Street and donate. Then the Rogers folks are doing the Carmine Ricciuti Christmas Special, which will be taking place on Friday, December 18. Donations can be made on that day at both Twiggs locations on Fraser St. and Cartier St.”
Lachlan says they are anticipating another successful season for the Santa Fund.
“We have a great team and obviously this is a different year with the Covid-19 pandemic situation but I’m quite excited about what we are going to be able to do.”
If you have a story suggestion for the “helpers” series, send Matt an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.