For more than 30 years teachers and students at St James Catholic High School, as well as community organizers, have been inviting families to the school for fun, food and a visit with Santa during the St James Children’s Christmas Party.
St James teacher Peter Glaab helps to organise the event every year but he first attended the party as a boy with his father, Joe Glaab, who was a teacher at Bishop Macdonell high school.
“I remember my dad going up to the school on a weeknight around this time of year,” said Glaab. “He would say, ‘you just have to stay with me. This is not for you.’ I would go in and see gifts and food and as a little kid think, ‘this is awesome.’”
The experience inspired him to get involved as well.
“I would see all sorts of students and staff from Bishop Mac and they would have this party for families,” he said. “Colin Malone and I, when we became students there, we became part of that party.”
Glaab and Malone not only volunteered to help with the party but delivered hampers to families across the city, as well.
“I don’t know what happened with the party after I left Bishop Mac,” he said. “I think it took a bit of a pause but James Lafferty picked it up again at Lourdes for a few years and then it came here about 30 years ago. I have been involved in it for 25 years.”
The tradition has been picked up by the next generation of Glaabs,
“My daughter is in Grade 9 and she has been waiting to do this since she was a little girl,” he said. “She is in the cafeteria right now.”
As many as 50 St James student volunteers helped with the party Saturday morning along with 10 staff members.
Preparing food for the party has become part of the food nutrition class at St James and the party guests don’t go home hungry.
“It was just snack food back when I was a little kid and teenager,” said Glaab. “ Now, they put together a kickin’ meal. This year it is lasagna and homemade mac & cheese. They send the families home with a box of baked goods.”
Activities included dance classes, ball hockey, basketball, lacrosse, face painting, board games and, of course, a visit from Santa.
“They’ve set up a spa where they are doing hair and nails for the girls,” said Glaab. “The gym is a big space where people can just let loose. A lot of the families are probably living in tight spaces and kids need to move.”
One of the families at the party Saturday has been going for decades.
“There is a multigenerational family here,” said Indu Arora, president of the West Willow Village Neighbourhood Group. “Growing up the grandma was attending the St. James Christmas Party and she ended up bringing her daughter and now she is bringing her granddaughter. A lot of families from the neighbourhood group are here attending.”
Gayle Brown started going to the party with her daughter Georgina in the 1980s.
“My nieces used to come over the years as well,” said Brown. “We brought my granddaughter Willow this year. She is in Grade 7 at Mitchell Woods Public School.”
Arora said the main focus of the event is family.
“There is a need for it because not every family can afford to do everything Christmas and the holiday season entails,” said Arora. “This is a very inclusive inviting environment where kids get to do their arts and crafts. There are meals provided and you sit around as a family.”
Elliott Coach Lines donated a bus that picked up families from different community groups and they received donations from the Wellington District Catholic School Board, the OECTA (Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association) and the OSSTF (Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation).
“One of our students, their parents own a business and they donated $500 and we said 'thank you very much,'” said Glaab.
Nevertheless the costs of putting on the event continues to rise and they are no longer able to buy gifts for the kids.
“Maybe it is most about the food,” said Glaab. “Feeding people and bringing them together, having fun. We can reason that that is the most important part, the community building.”
He said that Christmas can be a tough time for vulnerable families and they hope this event brings them some joy during the season.
“We are only strong as a community when we can take care of each other’s vulnerabilities,” said Glaab. “I think that communities and nations are judged by the way they take care of their most vulnerable.”
They are looking for support to keep the tradition going.
“It would be really, really helpful if we can get some donations for next year,” said Glaab.
Anyone that wants to donate can contact St James Catholic High School and donate to the St James Children’s Christmas Party.