Santa Claus may live in Bradford West Gwillimbury.
In a random act of generosity, local resident Clay Alarie donated more than $5,000 worth of food for the South Simcoe police Cram a Cruiser drive for the Helping Hand Food Bank, bringing tears to the eyes of police officers, volunteers and Zehrs employees running the event.
“The whole spirit was amazing. I think Santa Claus is already here in Zehrs,” said Special Const. Elisabeth Aschwanden, who accepted the donations from Alarie for Cram a Cruiser.
“It was such an amazing day. A lot of us had tears.”
It all began the morning of Dec. 15, when Alarie was running errands around town. He said he spotted the flashing lights of a South Simcoe police cruiser at Zehrs and decided to check it out.
Aschwanden was there collecting monetary and food donations, and Alarie donated $100 cash.
He left before deciding to go back and make an even larger donation.
“(I thought), ‘I have a lot of wants in my life, but they’re not needs. Other people have needs that (trump) my needs. Here I am in a position to help a lot of people,’” he said.
Alarie runs a company that oversees the building of high-rise towers in downtown Toronto and is doing well financially, he said, but that was not always the case.
“In my lifetime, I’ve gone through some really low points. My mother raised three boys on her own. Meals were very slim and hard to come by. (Later on in life, I remember) picking mould off old stale bread, toasting it and putting mustard on it,” he said.
As a single dad for the last 21 years, he said he was not always able to give his own son a lot at Christmastime.
Now that he is in a better financial situation, he can help families have a better Christmas with food on the table and gifts under the tree.
Alarie usually organizes large toy drives through his company, but was unable to do that this year due to caring for an ailing relative, so he said he decided to get involved in other ways.
At Zehrs in BWG, he went with grocery store staff and Aschwanden into the warehouse to pick out enough food and hygiene items — everything from chocolate pudding cups, peanut butter, applesauce and cereal, to shampoo and diapers — plus some Joe Fresh pyjamas, to cram seven South Simcoe police cruisers from floor to ceiling.
The largest donation the Cram a Cruiser food drive has ever previously received is one shopping cart full of items, said Aschwanden.
“Growing up, my mother really had a tough time as well,” she said, adding Alarie asked her what she always wanted to have as a kid but never could, before buying a bunch of that item for donation.
“Hot chocolate — that was never in our household.”
It took four hours to select all the items and ring them through a cash register.
During that time, Alarie received a phone call of thanks from South Simcoe Police Chief Andrew Fletcher, and curious onlookers donated money and food — sometimes right out of their own grocery carts while loading up their cars, Aschwanden said.
When everything was paid for, Alarie joined police officers and volunteers on a drive to deliver the items to the food bank.
“We had this convoy of police cars driving through town,” Aschwanden said.
Looking back at the day, Alarie said he did not make the donation for publicity, rather to put some good into the world.
“We all have a heart. The world’s not perfect. We can make it a little bit better. Just to watch the rest of the community get more involved because they saw one person reach out (was the best part),” he said.
“Christmas is a time for giving and remembering what really matters. It was the magic of the season.”