To help aid in the ever-growing poverty rate in Winnipeg, Ride with Santa strives to make the Christmas season more enjoyable for those struggling.
On December 23, at 2:00 p.m., the 11th annual Ride with Santa will take place, with the meeting point at True North Square (223 Carlton Street).
In something that has become a widely anticipated Christmas event, Santa, his reindeer and his elves will cycle through Winnipeg's extensive active transportation trails in the city's downtown area delivering gifts
Kerry LaBlanche, who rides as Santa, says this festive event started out in an effortless way.
"One day [I was] riding home from work and I had a spare Santa suit lying around and I just threw it on to just be silly and see what would become of it."
Winnipeg has experienced colder temperatures than seasonal this past week, which only emphasizes the need to help those who are vulnerable stay warm. Ride with Santa tackles this need by checking up on these individuals who are somebody's son, daughter, mother, father, brother or sister.
"It's a matter of checking in on them and humanizing their situation...that they're all valued and they're all cared for," says City Councillor Markus Chambers, an active participant in the ride. "If we can get out there and provide them a little bit of comfort and awareness that they are valued in our community, it does go a long way."
Participants will make their way to some of the city's non-profit organizations that care for the at-risk community on a daily basis. Places like Main Street Project, Salvation Army's "Centre of Hope," Siloam Missions and Rossbrook House will be drop-off centres for mittens, toques and LeBlanche says they have even added boots to their inventory.
All of these winter essentials are provided by donations from people in the community. Even the residents in old folk homes donate their time by knitting some of those mittens and hats for the cause.
Advocacy for Winnipeg's Active Transportation
Not only does Ride for Santa seek to help those who are vulnerable in Winnipeg, but its second purpose serves as a winter cycling promotion event as well.
"This is an added bonus in terms of what the Ride with Santa represents, the opportunity to use that infrastructure to travel throughout our core area, delivering this good cheer to those that are vulnerable in our city," says Chambers.
LaBlanche is a regular cyclist in all seasons and he frequently communicates with the city councillor to make sure that all cyclist routes are cleared, sanded and acceptable for use.
The Santa cosplayer admits that one of the toughest things about cycling in the wintertime is the rush of adrenaline he gets when he slips in front of motorists and trying to shake off that embarrassment afterwards.
Cycling in the Winter, but Never Cold
When asked about how it feels to cycle in winter delivering these gifts to those in need, Chambers says that every time he participates in this event, he never feels cold.
"The warmth that I experienced and just connecting with somebody who is less fortunate and handing them a bundle of assorted items, whether it's toques, mitts, socks, their response, 'This is for me? I don't have to pay for it, are you serious?' I mean, it's the warmth that you feel just from helping somebody and connecting with that individual."
Unfortunately, due to a hip replacement surgery in August, Chambers is still recovering and won't be able to attend this year's Ride with Santa.
Extra precautions are also being taken to ensure those that are vulnerable stay safe and healthy during cold and flu season.