Santa Fund reaches $1.7M goal, thanks to donors who put smiles on young faces at Christmas

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We did it.

Hundreds of volunteers and thousands of donors came together to make a little bit of Christmas magic for underprivileged kids across the Toronto area.

Thanks to Star readers’ overwhelming generosity, 45,000 vulnerable kids woke up on Christmas morning with a box of gifts under their tree.

With your donations, our intrepid volunteers helped prepare and distribute the boxes across five cities, braving wind and snow, traffic and parking, to deliver what for many children is the only present they’ll receive this year.

“I am thrilled with the overwhelming community response we have received from across the Toronto area,” Torstar President and Toronto Star Publisher John Boynton said. “It makes me proud to know that residents have come together once again, all in the spirit of Santa Claus. Thank you to all our generous supporters who have helped put a smile on the faces of more than 45,000 young kids at Christmas.”

“Now that we’ve accomplished our goal, we can look forward to a wonderful new year knowing that we put a smile on thousands of children’s faces this Christmas,” said the Santa Claus Fund’s director, Barbara Mrozek.

Mrozek relates how she received a note from a woman attending the fund’s annual Christmas concert that described how the donor had been “a proud recipient” of the Star box when she was a child. Growing up poor in Kensington Market, she and the other kids who got the boxes would trade the gifts.

“I never realized it then, but the Star box was more than a box filled with goodies,” Ellen Trotman wrote in the note. “It was something to look forward to and more importantly, it brought the community that much closer. Brought it to care. It created an opportunity to get to know those kids you probably never played with or even offered a passing hello.

“Unless you lived it, you have no idea what effect the Star box had on people’s lives and community. So, no. It wasn’t just a box. It was everything good that only happens at Christmas.”

One hundred per cent of the more than $1.7 million raised has gone toward warm clothing, small toys, books, cookies and dental hygiene items for thousands of children from newborns to age 12 in Toronto, Mississauga, Brampton, Ajax and Pickering.

To everyone who donated their time or money, on behalf of everyone at the Star, thank you — and we can’t wait to do this again next year.

Jack Hauen is a breaking news reporter, working out of the Star’s radio room in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @jackhauen

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Forget letters to Santa! London students write to police on-duty Christmas Day

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London police officers received an unusual gift Christmas day when they arrived for duty: Handwritten letter of appreciation penned by students from London’s École Secondaire Monseigneur-Bruyère. 

Two grade seven classes wrote 100 letters to every officer working to keep the city safe rather than enjoying the festivities with their own families.  

Grade 7 teacher, Jennifer Miller, had her students write letters to London police officers working Christmas Day (submitted)

« It was all inspired by my father, » said Jennifer Miller, who teaches English to the students. « He’s a retired police officer and he loves Christmas. »

He’d told his daughter about his Christmas shifts in London being quiet and sometimes lonely.  

« When you get a difficult call it’s made more difficult because you’re away from your family, » Miller recalled her father telling her.  

She asked her dad this year to write an initial letter to students telling them about the ups and downs of policing. In the end, it kick-started the Christmas Day letter writing campaign. 

Old school approach

« They were right on board, » said Miller. « Some students even wrote four letters. »

Some of the students have parents who are officers. One wrote a letter to her grandfather. All of the letters are personally addressed and hand-written with messages of thanks

I realize how hard it must be to work while everyone else is celebrating.– Lina, École Secondaire Monseigneur-Bruyère student

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« We went old school! I told them no computers, » said Miller. 

« Some people might rob toy stores like in Home Alone. So I wanted to say thank you.– Gillian, École Secondaire Monseigneur-Bruyère student

Miller said most of the students have never interacted with police, unless they are a family member. Some students have had difficult experiences with police officers.

« So this is also a nice way to see police officers in a positive light. That they’re helpful and we should be thankful for them even though they sometimes do things that at times may seem difficult to swallow. »

About 100 letters were written by students to London police officers to brighten their spirits while they work on Christmas Day.

The school’s resource officer was able to get the names of all of people scheduled to work Christmas Day, both day and night shifts.  

Miller said, the students are probably the most excited. 

« Some of them just think that police officers are heroes and now they feel a little bit like a hero too. »

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Where is Santa now? Follow NORAD’s Santa Tracker 2018 – National

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Want to find out where Santa Claus is right now? Every Christmas Eve, the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) deploys its cutting-edge technologies to track Santa Claus‘ movements as he scrambles to deliver presents to children around the world.

A joint Canadian-American venture, NORAD’s day job is to provide air security and aerospace warning services. But come the holiday season, the organization takes on the added responsibility of providing minute-by-minute updates on Santa’s whereabouts.

This year, Canadians can keep tabs on Santa’s journey on the 2018 NORAD Santa Tracker website, the official Facebook and Twitter pages, and via NORAD’s official Santa Tracker app, available for Apple, Android and Windows devices.

Google also offers its own Santa-tracking website, complete with a variety of games and an advent calendar.

But if you’d rather keep it old school, you can simply dial 1-877-HI-NORAD to speak to a volunteer.

But how exactly does NORAD keep track of Santa’s magical sleigh? Thanks to Rudolph, and a little technology, the process is quite simple.

NORAD says its command centre’s Defense Support Program satellites use an infrared sensor to detect heat signatures from Rudolph’s nose to provide accurate tracking of the sleigh.

The NORAD Santa Tracker project began after an advertisement misprinted a telephone number for kids to reach Santa, causing kids to call the commander-in-chief of the now-defunct Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD) back in 1955

It may have been an inconvenience at the time, but it sparked an annual tradition that was taken over by NORAD in 1958.

This year, Santa’s sleigh route will see him head south from the North Pole before travelling west through Asia, down through Africa and then north through Europe before making the trans-Atlantic journey to visit North and South America.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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10-year-old Calgary boy asks Santa to free friends’ dad from Turkish prison

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A Calgary mom is forwarding her son’s heartbreaking letter to Santa along to Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, as they might have more sway than Saint Nick in fulfilling her child’s request.

Ten-year-old Douglas Hsu’s letter didn’t focus on the gifts he wants for Christmas. Instead, he asked that the father of two of his friends be released from a Turkish prison.

He used to be classmates with Vedat and Cemil Hanci. The Hanci boys moved to Ontario in 2016, after their father, Calgarian Imam Davud Hanci was detained in Turkey.

Douglas Hsu, 10, said all he wants for Christmas is for Davud Hanci to be reunited with his family. (Terri Trembath/CBC)

He has since been sentenced to 15 years in Turkish prison on allegations he was connected to an attempted coup. Relatives say he was visiting his sick father at the time and was not involved.

The two families have stayed close, and when Douglas started drafting his letter to Santa, his mom Lindsay Connick said he had only one thing on his mind and couldn’t be swayed.

‘I’d like him to free our friend’

« He just said ‘mom, you know what, Santa’s a super magical guy.’ And he said ‘since he’s magical, you know what I’d like to ask for, for Christmas this year?' » Connick said. « And I said, ‘what’s that Douglas?’ And he said ‘I’d like him to free our friend Davud.’ And I was just taken aback and didn’t know how to respond right away. »

Connick said she told him it was a big ask and very noble.

« Dear Santa, Thank you so much for caring for the world’s families, » Douglas wrote.

« This year, my friend’s dad was sentenced to 15 years in jail after the two years he’s been in this cold Turkish prison. I wondered if you could help me free him …That’s really all I want, I wouldn’t like anything else. »

Lindsay Connick and her son Douglas Hsu, pictured with Rumeysa Hanci and her sons this summer in Toronto. (Submitted by Lindsay Connick)

Douglas said it made him sad that his friends weren’t going to have their dad with them for the holidays.

« I feel kinda sad that he’s in there ’cause he wouldn’t be with his family for Christmas, and then their family wouldn’t be together for a long time, » he told CBC News.

Connick sent her son’s letter to Freeland, Trudeau and local MP Len Webber, along with a letter of her own last week. She said she hasn’t heard back yet.

« My initial response was this was a big ask and Santa’s going to need some help, » Connick said.

It was so touching for me and I couldn’t hold my tears, and we cried on the phone for a long time.– Rumeysa Hanci , Davud Hanci’s wife

She said she’s hoping government officials take the 10-year-old’s request to heart.

« One of the most important life lessons I feel we can all strive for is to be good to others, » she said.

Connick called Davud’s wife, Rumeysa, to tell her about Douglas’ letter.

« When she told me about Douglas’ letter to Santa, it was so touching for me and I couldn’t hold my tears and we cried on the phone for a long time, » Rumeysa said.

« He has such a warm heart and he has compassion. »

Rumeysa said it has been nearly two-and-a-half years since she and her sons have been separated from Davud.

« I try to be strong for my kids, you know, I am a mom, » she said, her voice breaking.

« We miss him so much. »

She said her husband is being held in solitary confinement. She asked her fellow Canadians to think of him and put themselves in his shoes.

Rumeysa Hanci, wife of Calgary imam Davud Hanci, who is imprisoned in Turkey, said her husband is being kept in solitary confinement. (Larry MacDougal/Canadian Press)

In July 2016, more than 75,000 people were arrested in Turkey in a crackdown following an attempted coup against the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. A state of emergency was instituted in the country that ended this July.

Hanci and many of those arrested were accused of having ties to Fethullah Gulen, a U.S.-based cleric who was blamed for the attempted government overthrow. Family members have said Hanci has no connections to Gulen.

Before his arrest, he had been living with his wife and children in Calgary, working as an imam for Correctional Service Canada and the Alberta correctional services.

‘I try to keep my hope alive’

Rumeysa said she’s allowed to talk to her husband on the phone for 10 minutes each week at midnight because of the time difference.

« I am losing my hope of course … nothing has changed. But I try to keep my hope alive, » she said.

« I wish for the Canadian government to do something for him to be released. »

Calgarian Davud Hanci was sentenced to 15 years in a Turkish prison on what his family says are false charges. (Selman Durmus)

Brendan Sutton, a spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada, said consular officials are providing assistance to Hanci and his family and remain in contact with local authorities, but due to the Privacy Act further details cannot be released.

« We know how hard it is for family and friends when a Canadian is detained outside of the country, » Sutton said.

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Ritz-Carlton in Montreal serves up allergen-free breakfast with Santa – Montreal

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Santa was back in Montreal Sunday for a very special breakfast at the Ritz-Carlton, and he traded in his sled for a Jaguar for the occasion.

Breakfast with Santa features a holiday spread for kids that is free of the top 10 food allergens.

“Today is the official launch of the holidays at the Ritz-Carlton and we opened it up for the Ste-Justine’s ByeBye Allergies,” said PR director Katia Piccolino.

“We’re basically turning this into an allergy-free zone for the kids to come and enjoy the holidays.”

READ MORE: Quebec approves pilot project for treating food allergies in kids

ByeBye Allergies is a fundraising campaign for access, research and innovation in the treatment of food allergies in Quebec. This marks the second year the Ritz-Carlton has held the event for ByeByes Allergies.

Carlie Dejoie, who took part in Sunday’s bash with her children, said the breakfast is a nice way to raise awareness about the topic of food allergies.

WATCH: Oral Immunotherapy at CHU Sainte-Justine






She also said it’s also important for parents to know they are not alone.

Dejoie’s children both had protein allergies that they’ve since outgrown, although her daughter still has an intolerance to milk.

READ MORE: Is it a food allergy or a food intolerance? Here’s how to spot the difference

For Dejoie, Sunday’s event wasn’t just about raising awareness, it was also about giving back and being thankful.

“Because our children use the healthcare system, and many times they’ve been saved, lets say and we’ve been reassured,” Dejoie said. “I find that it’s my way to give back and thank all the professionals that I’ve dealt with over the years.”

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Thousands attend 45th annual Peterborough Santa Claus Parade – Peterborough

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Thousands of people lined George Street on Saturday night for the 45th annual Kinsmen Peterborough Santa Claus Parade.

The parade began at city hall at 4:45 p.m. and made its way through the downtown area.


READ MORE:
Thousands flock to downtown Peterborough for Santa Claus parade

This year’s parade theme was Superhero Christmas.

Over the years, the parade has drawn hundreds of participants from Peterborough organizations including the Peterborough Police Service, Peterborough Fire Services and the Rotary Club.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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4-year-old girl dies in tragic Santa Claus parade accident in Yarmouth, N.S.

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A four-year-old girl is dead after a tragic accident at a Santa Claus parade in Yarmouth, N.S., police said Saturday, as a witness described a scene of terror that shattered the small port town’s holiday celebration.

The girl, who has not been publicly identified, was running along a passing parade float on one of the town’s main thoroughfares when she fell underneath it just before 7 p.m. local time, police said.


READ MORE:
Three arrests made in connection with suspicious fire in Yarmouth

She was rushed to a local hospital by paramedics but was pronounced dead a short time later.

Cpl. Dal Hutchinson, a public information officer with the Nova Scotia RCMP, described the event as “very, very tragic – and also very traumatic for everyone there.

“My understanding is there was a large group of people there – families – watching the Santa Claus parade when this incident took place,” Hutchinson said in an interview Saturday night.

He added that anyone who may have witnessed the incident should talk about it with others and seek support to deal with the trauma.






WATCH: 4 dead in house fire near Yarmouth, N.S.: RCMP

“Our thoughts are with this little girl’s family during this very, very difficult time.”

Vance Webb, a retired machinist who lives on the outskirts of Yarmouth, attended Saturday’s parade with his wife, stepson and three grandchildren.

“We were just watching the parade, and then about 30 feet away, I hear – all of a sudden, the float stops, and I kinda see something on the ground,” Webb said in a phone interview.


READ MORE:
Nova Scotia’s Yarmouth region experiences minor earthquake on Saturday

“Then all of a sudden, we just heard screaming. It was pretty close to us.”

Webb said the entire scene descended into “mayhem” as people realized what had happened.

“People within 50 feet of it – none of us are OK. All the adults were crying. Everywhere I saw, there were hundreds of people crying,” said Webb.

“This is really gonna affect the town.”

Parade organizers did not immediately respond to requests for comment Saturday night.

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Child killed by float at Santa Claus parade in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia

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A four-year-old girl is dead after falling beneath a float Saturday night at a Santa Claus parade in Yarmouth, N.S., police said. 

« A very tragic incident, very traumatic for everyone who was involved with the parade and at the scene, » said Cpl. Dal Hutchinson of the Nova Scotia RCMP. 

« My understanding there were a lot of people nearby when this took place. So our thoughts right now are with this little girl’s family, as it’s a very difficult time, but also with the community. With people that were there watching the parade. »

The incident happened just before 7 p.m. near the intersection of Main Street and Starrs Rd in the middle of Yarmouth. The Yarmouth Christmas Parade of Lights was scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. on Saturday evening. 

« She was not on the float. She was running alongside of the moving float when she fell underneath the float, » Hutchinson said. 

The girl was treated at the scene immediately by RCMP officers and the Emergency Health Services, and was taken to Yarmouth Regional Hospital, where she was pronounced dead. 

Hutchinson said he knew there were many people who witnessed the incident and suggested that people may want to reach out for help, including first responders, who will be offered assistance if they ask for it.  

« If you’re struggling with what you witnessed, it’s very important to talk about it and seek some help to deal with those emotions, » he said.  

An RCMP spokesperson said police continue to interview witnesses on Saturday night. They are not looking at laying criminal charges, the spokesperson added. 

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Canada Post to parents: despite rotating strikes, keep sending letters to Santa – National

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With the holidays arriving, Canada Post is feeling the pressure from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and parents to resolve the ongoing labour dispute in time for an important holiday tradition.

This holiday season, letters to Santa Claus have to be delivered by Dec. 10. But what if the strike continues until then?


READ MORE:
Canada Post’s request to pause strike over holidays rejected by union

The Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) is demanding improvements to job security, an end to forced overtime and better health and safety measures. But Canada Post has said it has made a number of offers that include increased wages and better job security.

With the two sides at a crossroads, many Canadian parents are left wondering if the tradition of children writing to Santa Claus is going to be stamped out.

Canada Post’s letter-writing program to Santa Claus has been around since 1981. Last year more than 1.6 million children wrote to Santa, which involved more than 260,000 hours of volunteer work, according to the Crown corporation.

WATCH: Here are 3 other mailing service options during the Canada Post strike






“We continue to operate through the rotating strikes and continue to process Santa’s letters,” Canada Post spokesman Jon Hamilton said in an email to Global News. “We’ve also had volunteers at parades gathering the letters.”

“Parents should continue sending Santa letters from their children. Helping Santa with his letters is a longstanding tradition at Canada Post,” he said.

Kevin Matthews, a spokesperson for the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW), also told Global News, “if the strike action continues as it is,” Canada Post workers would be able to volunteer with the program, but with delays in some cases.

Trudeau puts pressure on Canada Post ahead of holidays

Although Canada Post is reassuring parents about the Santa Claus letter program, the continuing rotating strikes have also created a historic backlog of undelivered mail since they started on Oct. 22.

This has prompted some businesses and the Trudeau government to issue pleas for a resolution ahead of the busy Christmas season.

The prime minister is giving indications that his patience is running out. Last week, he said his government might soon act to end the dispute if Canada Post and CUPW cannot settle the dispute.

On Saturday, he also took Twitter urging Canada Post and the union to settle the dispute.

WATCH: Labour minister jokes that Canada Post strike ‘feels like parenting sometimes’






Trudeau isn’t the only one wanting both sides to resolve the issue. Many Canadians have taken to Twitter asking Canada Post if the ongoing strike will affect the letters to Santa program this year.

“The reindeer are on strike what’s Santa going to do?” Toronto artist and mother of two, Marjolyn Vanderhard, tweeted Monday.

Last year, Canada Post made changes to the Santa Claus letter program and stopped writing individual letters to children at school. Instead, the man in red now replies to the entire class with a large poster-sized letter that includes the names of all the children in the classroom.


READ MORE:
Canada Post says Santa won’t write individual letters to school kids — here’s why

But if children still want a personalized reply from Santa, they can write to him from home.

Where does the strike stand?

On Monday, Canada Post asked CUPW for a “cooling-off” period until the end of January to allow for negotiations. That meant union members would have to put down their picket signs over the holidays while talks are on.

“With the rotating strikes, resulting backlogs, and the massive Black Friday and Cyber Monday volumes that will arrive within days, we are trying everything we can to work together with the union — urgently — to deliver the holidays to Canadians,” Jessica McDonald, chair of the board of directors and interim president and CEO of Canada Post, said in a statement.


But the union quickly rejected the offer, saying it would not ask members to return to work under conditions that effectively have some employees working without compensation.

Canada Post workers also continued their rotating strikes Monday after rejecting the Crown agency’s latest offer and requesting the government appoint a mediator to help end the ongoing dispute.

— With files from the Canadian Press

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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114th Santa Claus Parade marked largest parade in city’s history

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Zyana Mangubat didn’t care that she was about to witness the largest parade — of any kind — in the city’s history.

The antler-wearing Stouffville tot was there for the star of the show.

The Fernandes family takes a selfie.
The Fernandes family takes a selfie.  (Steve Russell / Toronto Star)

“Santa!” Zyana, 7, erupted when asked what she was most looking forward to Sunday from Toronto’s annual Santa Claus Parade.

But before she’d see the rotund elf — and bid him bring her a Hatchimal egg — some 32 floats, 21 marching bands and thousands of clowns, knights, skunks, fish, princesses and upside-down monkeys would pass by her University Ave. perch.

And those combined floats and players would make the 114th edition of the Christmas season kick off larger than any of its predecessors, says Clay Charters, the parade’s executive director.

“And if the Santa Claus parade has always been the largest in the city and this is our largest Santa Claus parade, then I’m inclined to agree with (the largest parade ever claim),” Charters says.

“The previous high mark was 30 floats, so we’re two floats longer than there’s ever been before.”

The parade’s fanciful new entrants included a float sponsored by Sunwing.ca and Autentica Cuba featuring sunning elves on a Caribbean beach as well as a Canada Protection Plan entrant called Sledding Fun.

There were also 19 returning sponsors who’d done complete rebuilds of previous floats, Charters says.

Celebrity clowns smile during the parade.
Celebrity clowns smile during the parade.  (Steve Russell/Toronto Star)

Charters says his not-for-profit organization relied on more than 3,000 staff and volunteers to build, march in, and marshal this year’s parade.

Kalayce Brown — a parade sticker on her 6-year-old face — also enjoyed Santa and was asking him for an L. O. L Surprise Doll.

Dinosaur-mad James Chong, 7, hoped to see a Jurassic World movie float, but would have to make do with a Toronto Raptors raptor dribbling a basketball across a Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment entrant.

Charters is not surprised that the parade is still growing and beckoning hundreds of thousands of kids and their parents to Toronto’s downtown sidewalks in this video-game age.

“I think that even if kids are attracted to video games and their screens, inevitably everyone wants to be able to share experiences with people they love,” he says.

“And that’s what the Santa Claus Parade offers is a chance to get outside, to share something with your friends and family and to build traditions with them.”

The three-hour parade travelled from Christie Pits, wending along Bloor St., University Ave, and Wellington, Yonge and Front Sts. before breaking up at the St. Lawrence Market.

The North Toronto Marching band. The 114th Santa Claus Parade starts at Christie Pits and ends at the St. Lawrence Market in Toronto.
The North Toronto Marching band. The 114th Santa Claus Parade starts at Christie Pits and ends at the St. Lawrence Market in Toronto.  (Steve Russell/Toronto Star)

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