Have A Beary Merry Christmas

The holidays are the time of year when many of us reflect on the previous 12 months, say thanks for our blessings and try to help make the lives of those less fortunate a little brighter.

The Beary Merry Christmas concert series, now in its 17th year, is organized by the Salvation Army’s Maritime Chapter. The concerts benefit families during the holidays, providing funds for Christmas support with a fun twist: those attending the concert are asked to donate a toy or teddy bear on their way into the show. Proceeds help provide Christmas hampers packed with food for a Christmas dinner, while the toys and teddy bears serve as the gifts to go under the tree for children. Last year alone, the Salvation Army helped more than 17,000 children in the Maritimes through this program.

The Beary Merry Christmas concert series kicked off in Halifax and Sydney last week before travelling to Moncton tomorrow and Liverpool, Nova Scotia later this week. Among the performers are the Stadacona Band of the Royal Canadian Navy with emcee Liz Rigney. In addition, the show at Riverview Arts Centre tomorrow evening will boast some local flavour with a performance by In Harmony, a vocal group comprised of students from the Anglophone East School District.

Leigh Ryan is a community and family services co-ordinator with the Salvation Army in Moncton. He says that all proceeds raised from the Beary Merry Christmas Show stay in Metro Moncton.

“The Salvation Army is involved in a variety of programs designed to help the vulnerable,” he says. “Though we are busy at all times of the year, the effort we put forward at Christmas is one of the biggest of the year with providing food hampers and toys for children.”

Leigh says that some of the other programs offered out of the organization’s King Street office here in Moncton include a breakfast program. He says that since introducing the program earlier this year, they have served an estimated 500-600 meals each month.

In addition to offering self-esteem groups and anger management programs, Leigh says the office also offers complimentary laundry service for the homeless and transient population.

“I am unsure as to the reasons why, however we have found the demand(for our services) has increased over the course of the last year,” Leigh says. “Perhaps because of its geographical location, Moncton seems to have become a meeting place for people from all parts of the country and all parts of the world, really.”

Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Tutton has been performing as a part of the Stadacona Concert Band since early 2011. He says that the relationship between the Salvation Army and the Stadacona Band dates back a number of years.

Michael says that while the Stadacona band decides upon programming for the Beary Merry Christmas, they do their best to include a mix of traditional as well as non-traditional music.

“The program tends to change every year but we usually try to keep the program balanced between traditional and non-traditional holiday songs,” Michael says. “It has been our experience that our audience is comprised of more mature members but we are very interested in attracting and maintaining a younger crowd, as well. You know, there are veterans who have done tours of duty in Afghanistan that are only in their 20s, so it is important that we shift our concert programming to appeal to them, as well.”

Leanne Delaney is the music lead for the Anglophone East School District and oversees the In Harmony vocal group. She says that the group considers their performance as a part of Beary Merry Christmas last year to be a highlight of their time together.

“It is my opinion that elementary and middle school children are more aware of students in need,” Leanne says. “They are very aware that around this time of year, not everyone gets everything that they wish for and that there are many children and families in need. They have a great sense for what this type of event is about and are very eager to give their time to be a part of something very special.”

Leigh says that it is the community’s rallying spirit around events like Beary Merry Christmas that prove to be some of the most inspirational moments for him. He says that without the donations from the community, the job that the Salvation Army does would be infinitely more difficult.

“Last year, we provided assistance to approximately 573 families or households,” he says. “As an organization, we are humbled to have the opportunity of being trusted by the community to deliver these resources to those who need them. We receive donations from individuals, corporations, businesses, all of whom entrust us with the responsibility of getting assistance where it is needed most. We are deeply thankful for the partnership that we have with so many people and businesses in the Moncton area.”

Article published in the December 3, 2012 edition of the Times & Transcript