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.”

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