Sunday, March 24, 2019

EDITORIAL & OPINION | Volunteers are the Heart of Our Christmas Season

More Straight Talk


It’s still a little strange to realize that Christmas is quickly approaching for most of us that grew up in a climate that was not as “friendly” as it is here in Southwest Florida.

As many of you know, I’ve had the privilege of being the Chairman of Christmas Island Style for the last 14 years. I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to work with a committee that creates those fun events each year as dedicated volunteers. They work hard, not only during the holiday season, but all during the year to prepare for the month-long series of events that have islanders and visitors alike so excited for months in advance.

They work hard on getting the angels repaired and relit each year that decorate the medians which welcome us to the island and deliver new angels to homeowners and condos who order them from us as part of their decorations for this special season.

They work with the city to insure the Christmas banners are hung up and down Collier Boulevard that the committee raised the money for about 11 years ago. Those banners provide us with a great reminder of this special time of year and the special place we live in.

From Santa’s arrival at the Shops of Marco on the Friday immediately following Thanksgiving, to the wonderful tree lighting and gathering of neighbors and friends at the Veterans Community Park. To the Canine Pets on Parade at the Esplanade, the lighting up of the waterways around the island with the Annual Christmas Boat Parade and the gathering of families and their children at the Christmas Movie in the Park under the stars.

The arrival of Santa by helicopter and his visit for photos at Cookies and Milk with Santa and Mrs. Claus is a prelude to the mile-long evening Christmas Street Parade that brings out friends and neighbors two days ahead to stake out their coveted sitting positions.

Speaking about Santa in a helicopter, we’ve also delivered him by boat, in a horse drawn Cinderella carriage, in a fire truck and on a motorcycle.

We’ve made special visits to families with Santa with special needs. The satisfaction of knowing families will always remember those kind gestures such as a little girl dancing for her mother under an umbrella of bubbles that provided mom with a wonderful gift on the night before Christmas.

The children at the Marco Island Charter Middle School are an integral part of the Christmas Season here on the island also. They participate in a contest to design the Christmas Island Style Ornament each year. The winners are recognized at the Annual Christmas Tree Lighting each year and their design is used for the ornament honoring Christmas that next year.

The group has even brought ice-skating here to the island (Well, something close to it). In addition to ice skating, we’ve actually brought that frozen white stuff to the island as we’ve provided snow for the children to enjoy. They would climb large piles of the frozen chipped ice to roll around in and toss a snowball or two at each other or an unexpecting parent.

The wonderful fun and enjoyment that is provided by the House and Business Decorating Committee as they encourage the entire island to come to life with amazing decorating worthy of a “Clark Griswold” Award. The excitement that builds as the final judging on a Friday night is made that crowns the winners of both the House and Business Winners. A great tradition, and one you shouldn’t miss.

On top of all these fun activities during the Christmas Season also exposes the wonderful heart of this island. The philanthropic efforts of groups such as “F” Troop at the Island Country Club, the efforts of the Marco Bay Yacht Club, the Sport Fisherman’s Club to name a few.

Groups such as Kiwanis, the two Rotary Clubs and the efforts to feed the hungry by the hard work that supports the Meals of Hope to provide much needed nutrition to those in need.

Other organizations and groups such as Our Daily Bread Food Pantry, the Marco Patriots, Chamber of Commerce, Knights of Columbus, the Civitan Club and all our local churches and other charitable groups.

In 2005, my first year with Christmas Island Style we asked those that came to the annual Christmas Street Parade to bring a toy. Those toys were to go to a small community on the coast of Mississippi. Pass Christian had been leveled by the Category 5 Hurricane named Katrina. Most of the media coverage centered on New Orleans, we chose to donate to the local YMCA in that small coastal town.

I’ll always remember Cindy Love, Bill Morris and Jerry Gibson driving up the donations from our community to an area which would not have had much of a Christmas had it not been for our community’s generosity.

This year Christmas Island Style has collected both money toys in collaboration with the Marco Island Fire Foundation to provide children of first responders in the Florida Panhandle with a little Christmas Relief from their friends and extended family here on Marco Island.

After the Christmas Street Parade last Saturday night those donations and gift cards were assembled and on Sunday morning, my good friends Stan Niemczyk and Tom Mann hooked up a box trailer to a truck and off they went to the Panhandle of Florida. They would visit departments identified by the Florida Fire Chief’s Association through Marco Chief Mike Murphy and the efforts of Deputy Chief David Batiato from the Marco Department, who assisted in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael as part of a strike force deployed to the area.

Yes, Christmas is almost here, and we all have a lot to be thankful for. However, we can be most thankful for the generosity of this great community we live in and the wonderful work done by the members of this community for the benefit of so many.

God bless you all… have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Steve Stefanides, well-known by his nickname “Stef,” is an experienced award-winning reporter of local civic and public interest news. Stef’s More Straight Talk column (and its predecessor, Straight Talk), on a variety of subjects, is a favorite of readers who trust him to bring them the facts. A Marco Island resident, Stef contributes to the community in many ways, having served on a number of city committees, charitable groups, boards and local organizations. Contact him by email at Stef@coastalbreezenews.com

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