One man’s generosity gives Christmas to thousands

In its 30 years of service to the community, Christmas Cheer has moved twice. The hardy group of volunteers, determined that people without enough right now will be able to celebrate Christmas started their charitable life at the Armouries building, located in Queen’s Park in downtown Barrie.

From 1978 to 2000, the Armouries was home to a growing organization, whose numbers of recipients continued to increase every year.

With the armed disaster of 9/11 in September 2001, the Armouries regrouped its military centre and Christmas Cheer was off to find a new home. The Event Centre, recently vacated by Barrie Raceway, became the new facility and turned out to be a great move for Christmas Cheer. More than double the space gave critical room for growing amounts of food and toys being given by the community for the community.

Two years ago, the announcement by the Barrie Agricultural Society that its property had been sold caused many organizations to scramble for new facilities. Christmas Cheer was included in that desperate search for a new space.

The Agricultural land and several adjacent properties were purchased by Osmington, Inc., the commercial development arm of the Thomson empire. Ideally located at Essa Rd and Hwy 400, and already appropriately zoned, the property is slated to become commercial retail development.

Last year, with no luck in securing a new ‘home’ Osmington kindly let the Christmas Cheer folks continue their rent at the Event Centre. Last year was the last year.

In vain, Christmas Cheer sought a new, permanent home this year. Its needs are vast and brief… 20,000 square feet, on a bus route, with parking, loading dock, two entry points and washrooms. The big problem is that the space is needed for five days.

With so few buildings in Barrie that reach that size, it’s been a daunting task to find a permanent partnership. Negotiations with the city for use of the Barrie Molson Centre fell short because it would necessitate cancelling some minor hockey games. Negotiations with the Barrie Sports Dome fell short due to configuration of the buildiing and lack of parking. Negotiations with Georgian College for its gymnasium fell short due to the nature of the springloaded gymnasium floor. Negotiations with a private school ended because part of its facility is rented to a church. There’s a long list of potential properties but it’s a tough task, with barriers that seem insurmountable.

As spring bloomed into summer, those behind the scenes at Christmas Cheer worried whether the event would even be held this year. The food negotiators were held back; the plant organizers were held back; the applications coordinators had to design and print new material. Bell inadvertently reassigned Christmas Cheer’s 30-year old business line to someone else. Lots of challenges.

But this is a group of volunteers not to be discouraged. President Tina Hamilton held up the flame of hope.

And Barrie businessman Peter Moore has come through with a stop-gap solution for Christmas, 2008. Moore, who owns Moore Packaging and PBM Holdings, has long supported this organization. He provides huge numbers of cartons for Christmas Cheer recipients each year. His son, Philip, now responsible for managing properties, helped the group investigate space in the former Tambrands building at 364 St Vincent St.

While PBM is anxious to find a permanent tenant for its space there (several locations each offering huge numbers of square feet), the Moore team was willing to forego a tenant in one section to enable Christmas Cheer to be able to commit to its recipients and its very generous donating public.

And so… the tenants at 364 St Vincent will be sharing their parking lot and 20,000 square feet of space as volunteers behind this organization gear up for their 31st year.

Why? Because a business owner with many of his own challenges during these economic times, has been able to stop, hear and respond to the need of the community. With kindness. With care.

Thanks, Peter. As Tina Hamilton and her team so wisely say… ‘because everyone deserves to have a Christmas!’