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St. Pat’s banking on luck of the Irish for this miracle

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Cathy Dobson

This year may be the most impressive Irish Miracle Sarnia has ever seen.

If organizers at St. Patrick’s High School and St. Vincent de Paul can pull it off, the annual food drive will get the support required to help hundreds of families in need this Christmas.

After 36 years, COVID-19 is forcing them to completely redesign the event. Their innovation is what could make it the most impressive to date.

Rather than deploy 400 students door-to-door to collect non-perishable food, the Irish Miracle is moving online and collecting financial donations only.

“We’ve been told the church halls aren’t available for sorting and storing the food this year,” says St. Pat’s teacher Martina Austin. “It’s not the safest thing.”

Without the usual drop-off locations at Sarnia’s five parishes, organizers considered their options. They considered cancelling at one point.

But that would leave the St. Vincent de Paul critically short of food for nearly 1,000 Christmas hampers next month.

“In our hearts, we knew we couldn’t cancel,” said Austin. “There are so many families struggling during COVID-19, so we decided to help as best as we can.”

With the 37th annual Irish Miracle is going online, donors will be asked to make monetary contributions at www.ssvpsarnia.ca where an Irish Miracle link will be available from Nov. 27 to Dec. 18.

Recent Irish Miracles have collected about 8,000 bags of groceries that provided about 40 pounds of food per hamper. In order to offer grocery cards to buy that amount, volunteers are hoping for at least $50,000 to $60,000, said Bryan MacKenzie, president of St. Vincent de Paul Sarnia-Lambton.

In addition to hampers, the Irish Miracle normally provides enough food to stock the St. Vincent de Paul food bank until Easter, he said.

Registration is just starting for this year’s Christmas hampers but high demand is anticipated. The food hampers normally include toys for about 2,000 children.

St. Vincent de Paul intends to provide Lambton Mall gift cards so families with kids can buy toys this year.

“Instead of a hamper, we hope to be giving envelopes with gift cards from the Irish Miracle,” said MacKenzie. “Without the Irish Miracle, we have a problem.”

St. Pat’s students also organize Cyclone Aid each spring to collect non-perishables for local food banks. This year’s Cyclone Aid was cancelled when the pandemic forced schools to shut down.

“The big difference with the Irish Miracle is that we’re in school now and have the ability to do something, even if it looks very different,” said Austin.

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