By: Anna Dwyer
From parade goer to volunteer, the magic never ends when it comes to enjoying the annual St. John’s Downtown Santa Claus Parade
The St. John’s Downtown Santa Claus parade has always been an important part of Gaylynne Lambert’s Christmas. As a child, it was a tradition she shared with her family and as a young adult, she was a volunteer long before she joined the Downtown Development Commission as its event planner and marketing coordinator nearly 18 years ago.
The Start of the Season
“It’s always been the start of my Christmas season,” she said. “My mother took me and my sister. It’s such a fun, fun day – the clowns, the marching bands and the wiener dogs in turtle neck sweaters. To see them all in one place and watch the smiles on the children’s faces really puts you in the Christmas mood. It makes all the hard work worth it.”
The parade also marks the beginning of Christmas for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians across the province as well as expats living throughout Canada and the rest of the world. According to Lambert, more than 50,000 people tuned in to the broadcast last year. Indeed, to orchestrate such an event, she is thinking about logistics year-round.
“It is the largest parade east of Montreal and it’s a non-profit event, so we don’t have the resources available in larger places,” she said. “Here, the community really comes together – as many as 2,5000 volunteers – (including) people who collect food donations and letters to Santa, make floats, and march in bands.”
Over the years, she noted, there’s been a greater focus on safety and security, so volunteers now include the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary, St. John’s Ambulance, the Rovers Search and Rescue, and parking and traffic workers with the City of St. John’s.
Lambert is quick to note that although the parade is a wonderful opportunity for businesses and non-profit organizations to advertise, the focus is on families and children.
“I think about being six years old and I ask myself, ‘what would I like to see?’. Some things are always a classic. Who doesn’t love the Grinch and the mummers? But I also consider what’s popular now. I try to make sure it’s a nice mix of traditional and new things.”
Lambert noted that given the focus on children, this year’s parade is dedicated to Nevaeh Denine, who passed away on August 6, 2018, and in a nod to all children who can’t attend due to illness. Despite her illness, nine-year-old Nevaeh raised tens of thousands of dollars for pediatric cancer, and she and her lemonade stand won best float at last year’s parade.
For Newfoundland Power employee Patricia Kavanagh, the Christmas parade is also about charity and kindness. Kavanagh started volunteering about 20 years ago when the company began collecting food donations along the parade route.
“I started taking my children, who were about nine and ten at the time,” she said. “I wanted them to understand that Christmas is about more than the gifts you get. Food shortage was never a problem in our home, but I wanted them to know that it is for some people. I wanted them to know that it is a wonderful feeling to help someone in need, even if it’s in a small way.”
Although Kavanagh’s children have outgrown the parade, she hasn’t. She retires next month after 42 years of employment with Newfoundland Power, but she plans to return, along with the company’s approximately 50 other retirees and employees who volunteer each year.
“I love pushing the grocery cart along the parade route and seeing the smiles on the children’s faces as they put the food in the cart themselves. It puts me in the Christmas spirit and it feels good to know I’m helping gather food that will fill the bellies of those less fortunate.”
Lee-Ann Surette, a communications coordinator with Newfoundland Power, is proud of the volunteers who help make the parade a success, whether it’s building a float or collecting loonies and toonies. She noted that in almost 20 years, about $790,000 in combined food and cash have been collected, with the money used to buy perishable staples such as eggs and milk.
“It’s a major fundraiser and a huge boost for families going into Christmas,” she said. “It’s good to see our regulars come back every year. Some of them came as children with their parents and now, they’re parents. It feels good to be involved in such a well-organized event. You walk away with a good feeling about it.”
A Rewarding Goal
After the food is collected, it is distributed to food banks throughout St. John’s and other regions of the province, including Labrador. According to Eg Waters, general manager for the Community Food Sharing Association, the public awareness the parade generates also helps.
“It’s important that people know we do have food banks and we do have people in need of these services,” he said. “I’m very grateful to Newfoundland Power and to all the volunteers who make this possible. They know they’re collecting for the less fortunate and it’s very rewarding for them.”
This year’s parade is scheduled for November 25, 2018.
Watch the St. John’s Downtown Santa Claus Parade, December 4 at 4 p.m. on NTV.