Mealtime Express

Secret Santa Benefit Dinner raises $12,216



By Christian Bouchard


Mealtime Express is full steam ahead to bring smiles to local children.

The tenth Secret Santa Benefit Dinner was held Sunday at the Sandwich St. S. restaurant. The public responded well as tickets to the event were sold out in two weeks.

The local restaurant partnered with Amherstburg Community Services (ACS) and the Amherstburg Police Service to help local kids for Christmas.

Norm Mickle, who owns the restaurant with his wife Janet, said before the first of the four dinners served, they raised around $7,200. The total, as of Monday morning, was $12,216.

“The beauty of it is that it changes peoples lives,” said Mickle. “We’ve had people that we’ve done this for years ago that have shown up here with a cheque to donate to the Secret Santa program. It’s an amazing circle of life that happens here.”

Mealtime Express raised $12,216 at Sunday evening’s Secret Santa Benefit Dinner. A “Secret Santa” program is being run by the local restaurant in conjunction with Amherstburg Community Services and the Amherstburg Police Service.

With the partnership with ACS, families will then get a phone call asking what their child wants for Christmas. From there, a group of people go out to do the shopping and buy what the kids want for Christmas. Once the gifts are all bought, the Amherstburg Police Service gets involved to make sure the gifts get delivered.

“Now it’s become a community event,” said Mickle. “You would not believe the people and local businesses that have shown up and given us stuff that we can raffle off. All the money goes straight to the kids. We don’t take a dime.”

According to Mickle, in the 10 years of hosting the dinner, there have been over 3,000 gifts bought and over 250 people looked after, all locally. He called the partnership with ACS and APS “the perfect marriage” and said how humbled he is to be able to leave smiles on kids faces.

“It gives us an opportunity to give back to the community that’s taken care of us for so long,” added Mickle. “It’s a win-win-win-win situation for everyone involved.”

Amherstburg Police toy drive sees increased numbers



By Ron Giofu


The Amherstburg Police toy drive has concluded for another year and its not just the police officers involved who are excited.

The Amherstburg Police Service partnered with Amherstburg Community Services (ACS) and Mealtime Express’ “Secret Santa” program for the toy drive with distribution of the toys taking place last week.

“We have 79 children and 39 families,” explained ACS executive director Kathy DiBartolomeo.

Const. Nathan Harris, who helps organize the toy drive annually with wife Ashleigh, said families were chosen through referrals as well as those who have used services and programs offered by ACS.

“We almost doubled the numbers from last year,” said ACS’ community awareness and fundraising co-ordinator.

The Amherstburg Police toy drive, run in conjunction with Mealtime Express’ Secret Santa program and Amherstburg Community Services (ACS), concluded this week. Top row: ACS executive director Kathy DiBartolomeo and Const. Nick D’Amore. Bottom row: Const. Nathan Harris (with Hudson Harris) and Ashleigh Harris.

“I think people are more aware of the program now,” added Nathan. “People have used it and have reached out to friends and family.”

The Secret Santa Benefit Dinner held last month at Mealtime Express raised $9,270.50 towards the initiative.

Both Nathan and Ashleigh Harris as well as Const. Nick D’Amore helped distribute the toys last week, in conjunction with ACS. Arrangements were made with Amherstburg Community Services and families were aware that the toys were being delivered, said Nathan.

Ashleigh added that all parties are very thankful to the community with Nathan pointing out that the town always pulls together to help people in need.

“Once again, the community has shown its generosity,” added DiBartolomeo.

Secret Santa Benefit Dinner popular again at Mealtime Express



By Ron Giofu


Mealtime Express once again gave people a chance to have a chicken dinner and help local children at the same time.

The ninth Secret Santa Benefit Dinner was held Sunday evening at the Sandwich St. S. restaurant with the public responding favourably again in 2017. The final total of what was raised amounted to $9,270.50.

“We’ve pretty much sold all the tickets,” said Norm Mickle, who owns the restaurant with wife Janet.

Mickle said they have had businesses come forwarded with a wide variety of raffle prizes, adding Mealtime Express is very grateful.

“Everyone is volunteering their time,” he said. “We’ve donated the restaurant and the food and all of the proceeds go to local kids.”

The Secret Santa Benefit Dinner was held Sunday night at Mealtime Express. Staff volunteered their time to be there and were joined by Santa & Mrs. Claus. It is a partnership between Mealtime Express, the Amherstburg Police Service and ACS.

Once again this year, Mealtime Express teamed with Amherstburg Community Services (ACS) and the Amherstburg Police Service on the toy drive aspect of the Secret Santa program. ACS helps buy and distribute the goods with Amherstburg police also assisting with a toy drive as well. Mickle said they are happy with the partnership.

The Secret Santa program has been a big success in Amherstburg in its first eight years, he added.

“We’ve helped 200 families and over 500 kids over the first eight years,” said Mickle. “Local kids have received over 3,000 gifts right off of their Christmas lists. It’s actually gifts the kids want for Christmas.”

Mickle called the program “a real community affair” and now team with ACS and Amherstburg police after handling it themselves the first number of years.

“Everyone has their role. It’s perfect,” said ACS executive director Kathy DiBartolomeo. “It’s a great partnership between the three of us. It only helps us get bigger and reach more families.”

Const. Nathan Harris, who helps organize the Amherstburg police toy drive with the aid of wife Ashleigh, said it is in its fourth year with the first three having gone well. Harris said the community seems to have rallied behind the toy drive and they have been able to help a good number of families in Amherstburg.

“We’re hoping to be as successful, if not more, this year and to continue to spread Christmas cheer,” added Harris.

Ticket sales for Mealtime Express’ annual Secret Santa Benefit Dinner underway



By Jolene Perron


An event that began as a way to simply give back to the community that gave so much to them, has grown into a well-known fundraiser and partnership within the Amherstburg community.

“I think it’s a real testament to our community that three Amherstburg organizations are able to work together to help residents who are less fortunate,” said Austin Tyrrell, community awareness, fundraising coordinator for Amherstburg Community Services. “I think all of us have seen a neighbour or friend struggle, and I think I speak for everyone at ACS, Amherstburg Police, and Mealtime Express, when I say that we are immensely proud to provide not just a gift, but an experience that these families and their children won’t soon forget.”

The Secret Santa Benefit Dinner returns Nov. 12. This photo was taken at the 2016 event.

Norm Mickle, who’s wife Janet has owned Mealtime Express restaurant in Amherstburg for more than 29 years, explained the Secret Santa event began as an extension of an Essex Mission Program, which gathered specific gifts for kids in the Essex area.

“The staff at Mealtime would take kids names from the mission along with what they wanted for Christmas and go out and buy those gifts,” said Mickle. “We then loaded them up and took them out to some of the most wonderful people we ever met, Ilene and Ed Clifford. Their home looked like Santa’s workshop.”

Mickle explained, Janet decided they could turn this into something more for the kids in the Amherstburg and surrounding communities. This is where the idea for the first annual Secret Santa Benefit Dinner was born. In that first year, Mickle said they raised about $4,000, which went directly to local kids Christmas lists. In eight years, they have been able to help more than 200 families, and more than 500 children.

Last year alone, they raised $10,000.

“I do not have to knock on doors for raffle prizes. Local businesses call us to see what they can do to help,” said Mickle. “You see, it’s a win, win, win, win situation for all involved. The folks that buy tickets for the dinner get to help local kids win. The local businesses who sponsor us get to give back to the community that supports them win. The volunteers, from our family, the Mealtime Express Staff, Amherstburg Community Services and the Amherstburg Police services all get that warm fuzzy feeling knowing how much help they are, win. And of course, the kids getting Christmas gifts right from their Christmas wish list win. You wrap this all together and everyone’s contribution adds up to helping change a child’s life and they are given the gift of hope for their future. Over the years we have received anonymous donations from families that were once visited by Secret Santa.”

ACS is taking care of getting in touch with families in need of these gifts, while the Amherstburg Police Services will be collecting donations, and on November 12, Mealtime Express will host their Secret Santa Benefit dinner. For tickets, please visit Mealtime Express. They are $20 each, and are only sold in advance, with a takeout option available.

The ticket includes a three-piece chicken dinner, with fries, coleslaw, a beverage and cake for dessert. There will also be a raffle, gifts for everyone who attends as well as an appearance from Santa and Ms. Claus. For more information, please contact Mickle at (519) 816-7189.

“Each year has truly been a blessing and once again the Secret Santa program has started to grow again,” said Mickle. “Santa represents the smile on your face whether you are giving or receiving during this celebration. I’m not asking anyone to believe what I believe in. Jan and I chose this way. Through Santa Claus we can give the gift of Christmas to those in need and to us this is the greatest gift of all. Without the support of so many people we could not do this, so, for some unknown reason we are blessed to do this and hopefully for years to come.”

Amherstburg police toy drive helps make Christmas brighter for families


By Ron Giofu


The Amherstburg police toy drive has once again assisted families this year with the help of some community partners.

The toy drive, overseen by Const. Nathan Harris and his wife Ashleigh, was run in partnership with Amherstburg Community Services (ACS). In turn, ACS also partnered with the Secret Santa benefit dinner run by Norm and Janet Mickle and the staff at Mealtime Express.

“For the past three years, we’ve worked with the Amherstburg Police Service on their toy drive,” explained ACS executive director Kathy DiBartolomeo.

This year’s toy drive will help with brightening the holiday season for numerous local families, she added.

Amherstburg police completed its toy drive last week in partnership with Amherstburg Community Services (ACS) and Mealtime Express. From left: Austin Tyrrell and Kathy DiBartolomeo from ACS, Ashley & Const. Nathan Harris.

Amherstburg police completed its toy drive last week in partnership with Amherstburg Community Services (ACS) and Mealtime Express. From left: Austin Tyrrell and Kathy DiBartolomeo from ACS, Ashley & Const. Nathan Harris.

“In the end, we were able to help 49 children in 27 families,” said DiBartolomeo.

ACS had already partnered with Mealtime Express for the Secret Santa program so it made sense to combine everything, added ACS community awareness co-ordinator Austin Tyrrell.

“The police service were able to assist us in delivering the toys,” said DiBartolomeo.

The children were able to get more gifts this year than in previous year, said Nathan. Ashleigh added they received a lot of donations including new bicycles. One person even purchased 52 gifts by himself, she added.

“It’s been really nice,” said Nathan. “The Christmas spirit is alive and kicking in Amherstburg.”