Parksville’s Cheryl Cote and her husband Chris were lying in bed watching TV, when an idea that would impact their community struck them.
From that idea spawned Oceanside Christmas Wishes, a charity organization that helps low-income families in the Parksville Qualicum Beach region celebrate Christmas.
The inspiration for Oceanside Christmas Wishes first sprung when Cheryl noticed a lot of people who went to their baby group were low-income families and were having a hard time preparing for Christmas.
“My husband’s a big guy, we figured he’d make a good Santa. So we just kind of went with it,” said Cheryl.
“We figured if we could get together with a few of our local moms and bring in some donations for a couple families, we could help make Christmas a little bit better.”
She said her family helps people throughout the whole year if they struggling with things like food or clothes.
But special efforts are made around Christmas. Both Chris and Cheryl strongly feel that no family should go without, especially if they have kids.
This year marks the fifth year of their organization. Since the beginning, Cheryl said they’ve helped a minimum of 10 families every year.
But because in 2020 special considerations have to be made for pandemic restrictions, they planned to do ‘social distant Santa photos.’ Unfortunately because of the new restrictions, they’re not able to do that either, said Cheryl.
“We tried to do virtual visits, but we didn’t get much interest, only like 11 people. So we tried to do a few different fundraising things for our event, but it’s not happening either.”
Cheryl said they do get help from local businesses and private benefactors as well, which helps their cause considerably. On the Facebook page for Oceanside Christmas Wishes a post will list which families need help, their age, and what they’re looking to provide. They’ll then receive message from benefactors advising what they’ve picked up and offer it to a specific family.
“People just pitch in. It’s overwhelming, actually. The first year we had no idea what to expect but we figured we can get them a couple presents, and that would still be great.”
Trees, fresh or fake, decorations, outdoor and indoor lights, food and gift cards usually make the list every year.
“This year we actually had one of the realtors buy a brand-new fridge and stove for one of our families.”
The organization has even gone as far as to provide housing and electricity.
“We want to cover everything so it’s not just about the gifts, the gifts come last. It’s about the safety of the families first, make sure that they’re good and that they have food and basic essentials, then we take on the rest of it with what we can.”
Cheryl admitted that the organization has even covered rent for a month for several of their families. People have even reached out to them specifically to give money for rent and she said it “gets to be quite amazing and emotional.”
“This year might be a little more difficult to for us to get those donations in, but we’re gonna fight and see what we can get right.”
She does ask parents of the families they help not to ask for “PlayStations, iPods, and ponies” because if Santa can’t get those for every child than they can’t guarantee it.
During a normal year, the Cotes would typically do Santa visits to the families as well, to “hang out with the kids” and to take pictures, read books, or “whatever the kids want to do with Santa.”
Cheryl said that a considerable amount of families stay in touch with them through the years, and that they get to see children grow up.
To help raise funds they’ve booked Santa parties in the Parksville Qualicum Beach area, which are fully by donation. Typically they would go into someone’s house and visit their children, but this year they’ll have to restrict their visits to yard visits only.
“We obviously won’t be able to go in and see the kids and hang out with them like we have in the past but Santa usually gives them candy canes.”