The 30-year tradition of the Candlelight Stroll will be kept alive this year, but with a virtual event.
There will be a limited ceremony recorded from the Court House steps, tol be broadcast on Cogeco Dec. 4 at 7 p.m., the time the stroll would begin in a pandemic-free year.
But instead of crowds of people parading to holiday music provided by local choirs through the beautifully decorated streets of the Old Town that evening, residents are being asked to purchase a candle, and share the moment of the candle-lighting safely, outside the front of their home, while singing along to a few Christmas carols.
“We’re trying to make it as live as possible, knowing it’s virtual,” says Eduardo Lafforgue, president and CEO of the NOTL Chamber of Commerce, the organizer of the popular event.
The ceremony, which will include Lafforgue, Lord Mayor Betty Disero, and chamber board chair Paul MacIntyre, along with a local singer offering a few carols, will be pre-recorded by Cogeco, to encourage residents to stay home.
“We really don’t want people congregating there,” says Lafforgue. With a crowd of 15,000 estimated at last year’s event, it would be impossible to enforce physical distancing in the streets.
Candles will be available at $3, beginning Nov. 12 at local businesses. Funds raised will be donated to the Temporary Seasonal Agricultural Worker Health Program at Quest Community Health Centre, which had a challenging season providing primary health care to farmworkers.
“They desperately need money to keep on working,” says Lafforgue. “They do a fantastic job helping our farmworkers.”
Providing virtual care through online platforms at the start of the season, Quest professionals found “a significant increase in mental health support” was required this year.
“Workers left their families and supports during a pandemic, and came to Canada. Upon arrival they were taken to various locations and had to self-isolate for 14 days. We did our best to reach out to workers via social media to let them know they were not alone,” says executive director Nancy Garner.
“We had to find creative ways to connect with workers and to provide them with the care they needed.”
They delivered medical supplies and sample medication to workers on farms in a safe manner, also creating videos in English and Spanish on what to do if they felt ill, and how to disinfect their bunk houses.
“There are a number of workers with literacy challenges, and we had to create educational materials that were highly visual,” says Garner.
“As the only way to connect with workers was via technology, we provided SIM cards and phones for those workers who had no access to a device.’”
In July, Quest was able to provide provide in-person health checks onsite to a number of farmworkers, and provide items such as water bottles and T-shirts, being flexible to allow visits after work, in the evenings and on Sundays.
The funds raised through the sale of candles will be donated to Quest to continue to help offshore workers, and $2,000 will also go toward filling welcome bags provided by local volunteers.
There will still be a food drive for Newark Neighbours, with donations dropped off at the chamber office on Queen Street, downstairs in the Court House, Monday to Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. until Dec. 6.
“We’re trying to keep all the traditions of the stroll alive,” says Lafforgue.
He credits Jack Custers of Cogeco for working with him to provide a safe, virtual event.
“This is our way to keep the spirit of the stroll alive, the tradition of the stroll alive, and the spirit of sharing.”
The stroll will be broadcast on yourtv.tv/niagara