After 48 years, the iconic Santa’s Helpers Program comes to an end

Courier file photo Little ones from the Boys & Girls Club of Charlotte County, ranging in age from two years to preschool, sang Santa Claus is Coming to Town and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer to help raise money during last years St. Stephen-Milltown Lions Club Santa’s Helper broadcast. The Lions have announced due to a dwindling and aging membership, the club will no longer be hosting the event.

St. Stephen – After a 48 year run in the community, the much loved St. Stephen Milltown Lions Club annual Santa’s Helper Program has come to an end.

“We don’t have the energy and the numbers to do it anymore,” said a visibly disappointed Bob Brown. He and fellow St. Stephen/Milltown Lions Club member, Ron Goodine came to the Courier offices to deliver the sad news.

“You want to do a quality program,” said Goodine. “And after having it done for 48 years, we don’t feel that we should lessen our expectations, and we would be.”

The Santa’s Helper program was a five hour live broadcast – thanks to the assistance of WQDY/WALZ radio station – held every year in the auditorium of the St. Stephen Middle School. Over the decades, the event has raised literally hundreds of thousands of dollars for the community at a time when need is most keenly felt: Christmas.

School children from throughout western Charlotte County would perform various Christmas favourites, and the Lionettes would do a number or two as well. It was often considered the kick-off to the holiday season.

“The Santa’s Helper Program requires a great deal of time and energy which the Lions Club no longer has with its reduced membership,” stated a press release by the group. “The program was about children helping children.”

“People said we should keep going to 50,” said Brown, “But probably with our numbers reduced, we couldn’t do that. You’ve got to make a decision at the right time. You don’t want to let something else make the decision for you.”

“You know when it’s time to retire,” said Goodine. “You go year after year, but there comes a time when you say this is my time now. And it’s the same thing with this.

“It would have been nice to go to 50 years. But we got 48 years in, and they were good years, and we want to be happy with that.”

“Over the years it’s been a wonderful program – it’s been a lot of fun for everybody,” said Brown. “When you see the kids up there and they’re smiling – they have more fun than anyone. They love it.”

And as a club, the group is having to go from all to nothing. With dwindling numbers impacting the Lions just as changing demographics is having an effect on everything from service clubs to congregations, they aren’t simply scaling back their normal Christmas efforts, they are having to either pass the torch to a new group, or see it sadly extinguished.

“Clubs aren’t growing,” said Brown. “This is not a society where 20-year-olds and 30-year-olds are volunteering, so I just say we’re (the Lions) growing old together.”

The men see simple changes in society as the culprit, as families are busier, and travel far more for simple activities like school sports. “Back in my day if we took our kids to Saint John for a hockey game it was a big deal – maybe once or twice a year. Now they go to Sussex regularly through the week,” said Goodine.

“If somebody wants to do this type of thing, we would make ourselves available with knowledge, but we don’t want to get involved in doing it,” he added.

“They would have to do their own deal with WQDY and the phones and stuff like that,” added Brown.

“Within the week, you may have someone call and say ‘we’re hoping to take that over’ in some fashion,” said Brown, not without hope.

“Working together we brought joy to many children and families at Christmas time,” said the press release.

“We’re very proud of what we’ve done,” said Goodine. “And we regret that we have to take this step. Things change.”

If anyone wants to become a member of the St. Stephen/Milltown Lions Club, you can speak to any current club member or check out the St. Stephen Milltown Lions Club Facebook page. If you’re group would like to pick up the torch of the Santa’s Helpers program, do the same.