Sharing the holiday magic and the spirit of collaboration has yielded an Okotoks service club international acclaim.
Kiwanis Okotoks was recognized by the international association with the signature project silver medal award for its annual Christmas Toy Project.
“Kiwanis International, what they try to focus on is what’s the impact to the community or in this case communities?” said Dennis Dahl, secretary of Kiwanis Okotoks and for the district of Western Canada. “What’s the impact Kiwanis themselves, because in this case this project itself has grown three clubs in three other communities.
“So it’s significant when you think of the number of signature projects that come in and we ranked second in the world.”
Kiwanis International operates in approximately 80 countries with about 7,000 clubs and 550,000 members – including those involved in its Kiwanis kids clubs.
Dahl estimated there are 500 to 1000 entries submitted annually for selection, broken up into small and large clubs.
The toy project is conducted by the Okotoks club as well as partner clubs in Airdrie, Cochrane and Calgary Northmount, the latter of which started the project some 30 years ago.
All four clubs were recognized with the silver award.
“Through the last five, six years, three Kiwanis clubs have been created really with this project as the cornerstone, the main projects for that club — Airdrie, Cochrane and Okotoks,” Dahl explained.
“The whole premise is working with a number of agencies within the community, in our case Rowan House, Big Brothers and Big Sisters, Boys and Girls Club, FCSS, the Food Bank. There are five or so associations that we approach in the fall to get families in need.”
The toy project has children referred by agencies meet Santa, receive a goodie bag and shop for gifts at the Okotoks Walmart.
“Last year was really tough,” said Wendy Adam, president of Kiwanis Okotoks. “Because I was on registration with my husband and Dennis was also there, but the number of families who came because we could only use gift card as payments and said ‘is it okay if we buy groceries with this?’ So some of the kids didn’t get a toy, but when they got out they got a stuffy, goodie bags, they got something.
“But it really smacked you on how many families were in need.”
The past couple iterations of the project has supported 130 to 150 individuals per year. The 2020 event was able to support 160.
“The challenge we had last year because of the pandemic, a lot of service projects from Kiwanis clubs around the world got stopped, kyboshed because of inability to meet or they were indoors,” Dahl said. “Having it indoors with Walmart, even though they were reduced to 15 per cent (capacity), Sunday morning at 8 o’clock we were still able, working with Walmart to get it put on.
“We had to do some unique stuff with our late Mayor Bill Robertson as Santa. Kids couldn’t sit on his knee so we had to rearrange it a little bit, but were still able to host it which was fantastic.
“If you’re ever missing that Christmas spirit come out on the Sunday morning.”
Signature projects have a strict criteria that must be met, including the reoccurring nature of the project, the community gets to know the initiative, high impact in the community and that it be engaging membership.
The Christmas Toy Project fits the bill and then some.
Just one month after the club chartered, over four years ago, the inaugural toy project took place.
It’s always been about the collaboration with a number or helping hands and organizations to make the project succeed.
“We’re not the only ones involved, it’s other community organizations. We couldn’t do it without Walmart’s participation, we couldn’t do it without some of the other major sponsors that are involved every year,” Dahl said. “The bigger the project can be in the way of bringing the community together the further it just enhances that project.”
Dahl noted Kiwanis encourages its clubs to work with other community groups and service clubs to find ways to help their communities.
The toy project, since it was started by the Northmount club, has supported close to 20,000 children to have a better Christmas and between the four clubs have raised approximately one million dollars.
“For four clubs in western Canada, I would bet this is the first time that we’ve risen to second place internationally,” said Adam. “It is significant and it’s recognized internationally as significant which often spawns other clubs to think ‘gee, this is pretty good.’”
For more information go to kiwanisokotoks.ca