Warm Winter Wishes helps families in need

Fundraiser’s 17th season may be its last

MOUNT FOREST – Wellington Heights Secondary School is now running its Christmas fundraising drive, Warm Winter Wishes, for the 17th year.
The WHSS Grade 12 business class taught by Barb Cowen has operated the non-profit program since 2002.

The program teaches students in the class real-world skills for working in business, while also providing toys, clothes and food for families in need during the Christmas season.
“It’s excellent because it is hands-on,” said Cowen.

“Students learn that planning is never time wasted and the better at planning and organizing you are, the more it’s going to look like it’s very easy to run.”
This year’s initiative got underway on Nov. 13 and has already raised funds through school lunch cook-offs.

The program will run for five weeks and host 21 different events in the hopes of reaching the student-set goal of raising $40,000.

Over the last five years the initiative has been able to raise at least $32,000 annually. Two years ago, the class raised a record-breaking $42,000.

Activities range from school-specific, like specialty lunches and overnight “pyjama-ramas,” to community-wide engagements like local midget hockey tournaments and a silent auction.
Every year the auction raises a large sum. This year the auction will include signed NHL jerseys from Canucks’ centre Bo Horvat, Maple Leafs’ defenceman Morgan Rielly and Jets’ winger Patrik Laine.

The auction, which opened on Nov. 27, will end Dec. 17 at 8pm on the website www.32auctions.com/2018WWW.
“It’s a new project that the students were excited to try out,” said Cowen.

There has also been a push this year to use more social media to get the word out about the various events.

Already the students have been posting pictures, videos and information on their Warm Winter Wishes Facebook page, WHSSwarmwinterwishes Instagram account, and @wisheswarm on twitter.
Other events for the general public include:
– a community dinner at the Arthur Community Centre dining hall on Nov. 28 ($10 for advanced tickets);
– a midget hockey game between the Mount Forest and Arthur teams on Dec. 4 (admission at the door);
– a lasagna dinner at the Mount Forest community centre on Dec. 11 (admission is $15); and
– a sign paint night on Dec. 6 at 7pm at the high school for ages 12 and up (admission is $15 per sign).

Potential end of program
Warm Winter Wishes has become a fixture in Wellington North over the last 17 years, but it may be coming to an end.

Cowen, who started the program, is retiring at the end of this school year and it is unclear whether anybody else will take up the gauntlet.

“I understand that most people don’t want to spend every weekend and their evenings and all their spares doing preparation,” she said.
“But I still think they could still pare it down.”

Cowen said the program will help about 115 children and youth around Wellington North this year.

The class is working with schools such as Wellington Heights, St. Johns and Arthur public, St. Mary’s and Victoria Cross.

Youth workers and administrative staff at each school will identify families that need help around Christmas time and ask them for information like what toys their child wants, and their clothing and shoe size.

The students then shop accordingly for each child with support from local businesses and organizations.

The class receives toys from the Mount Forest Patriots toy drive every year and businesses like Gray’s Auction and Liquidation offer discounts to the class.
The program includes a $100 grocery gift card for each member of the family and an additional $50 pharmacy gift card for each child.

Despite the large contribution the class makes to families in need in the Mount Forest area, students don’t often receive signed thank you cards because the families remain anonymous.
Cowen says that teaches another kind of lesson.

“I say to the kids, ‘you have to be okay with not getting the thank you from the person,’” said Cowen, “You have to be okay doing something for someone and knowing that it is good, without expecting something back.”