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AMONG FRIENDS: Pictou County Christmas Telethon airs Sunday, Nov. 25

Monique Sobey and Debbie VanSickle have been making lists and checking them twice, but they are ready for the 44th annual Pictou County Christmas Fund Telethon, sponsored by East Coast FM and Eastlink community television.
Monique Sobey and Debbie VanSickle have been making lists and checking them twice, but they are ready for the 44th annual Pictou County Christmas Fund Telethon, sponsored by East Coast FM and Eastlink community television. - Rosalie MacEachern

PICTOU, N.S.

Monique Sobey and Debbie VanSickle have been making lists and checking them twice, but they are ready for the 44th annual Pictou County Christmas Fund Telethon, sponsored by East Coast FM and Eastlink community television.

As organizers get set for the Pictou County Christmas Fund Telethon Sunday at the deCoste Centre they are counting on Pictonians to be as generous as in past years. 

“Our goal is the same as always – to provide everyone with a traditional Christmas dinner which they might not have otherwise,” said Sobey, fund chairperson. 

Having the cost of dinner taken care of will allow many families to buy presents, pay a winter heating bill or meet another expense, she added. 

Last year’s event raised $80,000 worth of Christmas dinners for more than 3,000 county residents, and all indications are the demand will be equal or higher this year. Corporate pledges are already coming in and individuals can now pledge online. An energetic team will be taking calls from 1 to 7 p.m. Sunday.

Past chair Debbie VanSickle has been involved with the show for more than 20 years and keeps coming back.

“Christmas dinner is one of the things that makes the Christmas season special. I love knowing when I sit down to dinner with my family that we’ve helped everyone who asked for help.”

She also pointed out Pictonians are known for honouring their pledges and that is particularly important this year because the time frame for getting help to families is short.

“We need people to stop by Monday, if possible, to honour their pledges. We want to collect every donation and we have to do it very quickly.”

People can honour their pledges at all local banks, East Coast Credit Union or the Pictou Advocate, as in past years. A new location has been added this year, Atlantic Insurance on Provost Street.

Volunteers from the Pictou County food banks have already registered the people who need help. The telethon funds will be providing Sobeys gift cards which can be picked up at two locations,  Dec. 12 and 13 from 1 to 4 pm at Summer Street Industries for New Glasgow-area residents and for the Pictou area, Dec. 13 from 1:30 to 4 pm at First Presbyterian Church Hall, Pictou.

The telethon takes place on one action-packed Sunday with 100 volunteers taking telephone calls while more than two dozen local musicians perform for a live audience at the deCoste, for Eastlink viewers and for East Coast FM listeners.

The actual work gets underway in September, escalates mid-November to mid-December and wraps up with a general meeting in late March or April.

Sobey joined the board as a stage decorator 13 years ago and while she has chaired three previous telethons she has never given up decorating duties. 

“I have about 15 friends and family members who will be at the deCoste all day Saturday putting up all kinds of beautiful Christmas decorations donated to us by Proudfoots Home Hardware. When you come into the lobby and the theatre, it will definitely kick off the Christmas season.”

VanSickle said seven board members act as subcontractors and each have specific responsibilities.  

“People often ask me if they can volunteer with us and we’d love to have them but the truth is we don’t really need many new people because our volunteers stay with us for years and years. The beauty of that is they work like a well-oiled machine and things go very smoothly.”

She pointed out East Coast FM’s Ann MacGregor organizes the entertainment and has no trouble filling her slate with gifted performers.  

“She starts with the people she had to turn down last year but she has many people calling her and offering to perform. They want to do what they can to help and they really enjoy the excitement of the telethon.”

Sobey acknowledged some of those who will be helped are regular customers of food banks. 

“These people are on tight budgets all year round so we think it is important that they can enjoy a Christmas dinner and some extras that they don’t have at other times of the year.”

But she pointed out there are others who may be in need of temporary or occasional help.

“There may be individuals or families who have been hit with a layoff just before Christmas or they may have additional costs because someone is sick or they may have transportation bills. We’re here to provide a little help during a season that can be very stressful.”

Everything that is raised at the telethon goes to people living in Pictou County. 

“What it comes down to is neighours helping neighbours and having a lot of fun and entertainment at the same time,” said Sobey.

Last year’s campaign helped 1,200 households in the New Glasgow area and 136 in Pictou area. 

VanSickle remembers being in a grocery store lineup as a young child.

“I remember somebody not having enough money to buy what they wanted and that has always stayed with me. I know people in our county are generous so we’re expecting to be busy on the phones and if we get some donors challenging others,  that is great.”

She also loves getting small donations. 

“We sometimes get $2 from a child’s piggy bank and we welcome it. We also like the $5 donations because they come from the heart. Every little bit helps and if you don’t call in with a pledge you can still drop off a donation at any of our locations.”

Sobey expects the Christmas spirit to be in full swing Sunday. 

“We’ve got a lot of work to do in a short time and we need the donations to pour in.”

To check out the telethon entertainers, there is no charge to drop in to the deCoste Centre Sunday or check out the Pictou County Christmas Fund Telethon page on Facebook. You can also make an online donation on the Facebook page.

Rosalie MacEachern is a Stellarton resident and freelance writer. She seeks out people who work behind the scenes on hobbies or jobs that they love the most. If you know someone you think she should profile in an upcoming article, she can be reached at rosaliemaceachern4@gmail.com.

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