What started out as a grandparents' desire to create some Christmas memories for their granddaughter has turned into one of the most successful pop-up fundraising initiatives this holiday season.
Last year, Tony Sullivan and his wife Jocelyne decided to hand out candy canes with their five-year-old graddaughter Olivia to people passing by their Sugar Creek Way Christmas light display.
The Sullivans live just around the corner from Taffy Lane, arguable the most popular destination for Christmas light enthusiasts in Eastern Ontario. They handed out dozens of candy canes to grateful passersby, many of whom wanted to give them money for their effort.
Skip ahead a year and the semi-retired Canada Post worker is at the Orléans-Cumberland Community Resource Centre hoping to volunteer his services as a driver, or in some oher capacity. Because of the pandemic, the Resource Centre's lengthy vetting process for volunteers made it impossible for Tony to do anything before the holidays.
Still wanting to do something for the food bank, Tony thought back to the previous year when people wanted to donate money in exchange for the candy canes and he decided to accept donations on behalf of the food bank.
0n the first night, Dec. 21, they gave away more than 800 individually wrapped chocolate and candy canes while collecting more than $1,800. The response was so great that Tony enlisted the help of some friends and neighbours, including Bob Presland, who volunteered to play his guitar for the sightseers.
The others are Bev Ekland, Glen Fitzpatrick, Mike Chartrand, Marc Phillips. They call themselves the Saltwater Santa Cowboys after the song "Saltwater Cowboys" about Newfounlanders who work on the oil fields in Alberta.
Sullivan hails from Calvert, N.L., south of St. John’s. He moved to Ottawa 32 years ago, after playing in a Canada Post hockey tournament. "I fell in love with the place," says Sullivan with a thick Newfoundland accent.
After the incredibly successful first night, the Sullivans went back to Costco to buy more chocolates, and Shoppers Durg Mart and Metro for more candy cans. On the second night they took in a whopping $3,400.
"Once they saw what we were doing, some people would drive to an ATM, withdraw money and come back. It was unbelievable," says Sullivan. "Some people were giving us $20, $40 and even $100."
By Boxig Day, the Sattwater Cowboy Santas had raised over $15,000 and gone through more than 9,000 chocolates and candy canes. Their goal now is to raise $20,000 and they plan to keep the display up until the end of ths weekend.
"What's the rush to take it down? It took me a month to set it up," says Sullivan.
They've already presented a cheque for $3,000 to the Orléans-Cumbeland food bank and another one for $5,000 to the Ottawa Food Bank, They plan to divide the rest of the proceeds between the Eastern Ontario Resource Centre, the Shepherds of Good Hope, the Ottawa Mission and the Outaouais food bank to thank all the people from from Quebec who donated. They also plan to give a couple thousand dollars to the Albertini family on Elderberry Way, who were using their Christmas display to raise money for CHEO.
The effort has been so successful, that Sullivan plans to do it all again next year, if for no other reason then to use it as an example to their granddaughter Olivia, who was the inspiration for the initiative in the first place.