“It’s become a healing place. The community comes together to grieve, and heal, and enjoy together.”
These are the words of Carla Skye-Delisle, the president of the Kateri Memorial Foundation (KMF), who for the eighth year running, has organized Karonhiaráhstha’s Winter Wonderland in honour of her daughter Karonhiaráhstha Delisle, who passed away as a baby in 2013.
“The year after it happened, we talked about doing something in her memory, and I saw this amazing fundraiser where they have trees,” said Skye-Delisle.
The significance to the annual Christmas trees at the event have their roots here.
Individuals or organizations are able to sponsor a Christmas tree and decorate the space and tree itself, often in memory of their own departed loved ones.
The trees and the gifts beneath them are then raffled to community members.
Skye-Delisle takes pride in decorating her part of the space in honour of Karonhiaráhstha, this year creating a bedroom scene to memorialize what would have been her daughter’s ninth birthday.
“I always do a theme according to her age,” said Skye-Delisle.
“I did a bedroom set, and I did crafts, so there’s a sewing machine and everything you can think of for a nine year old. The bed-set is incredible, the colours, how it all came together.”
Another display features the community-sponsored Every Child Matters tree.
This year, organizers are encouraging guests to bring donations suitable for children of any gender to place under the tree, which will then be donated to those in need.
The project builds on last year’s community tree, which saw over 50 donations.
“It ties in with the memorial,” said Skye-Delisle. “Because the Every Child Matters is a memorial tree too.”
The Wonderland will take place at Knights of Columbus from November 18-27 and will be raising funds for the Kateri Memorial Hospital Centre (KMHC).
“It’s a lot of work, for sure, but it’s definitely worth it in the end,” said Hope Stacey, a member of the board of directors for the KMF.
“The fundraising makes a huge difference, it goes towards scholarships, education.
Every year this event gets bigger and bigger, and they’re just so generous. So, so generous.”
Golden Tickets will be raffled for $50,000 in prizes, as well as half-and-half tickets, which get ticket holders in with a chance of winning $10,000.
One tree, donated by Mohawk Online, will give the lucky winner a chance to win an all-expenses paid trip to Las Vegas, including a paid helicopter tour and $1,500 US spending money.
And beyond the raffles, a Christmas- themed photo booth will be available for families and friends to take pictures, as well as an onsite caterer who will be selling delicious meals all day.
This year, supplies for the Kateri Food Basket will also be accepted – any individual who brings non-perishable items for the basket or a monetary donation for Kateri will be offered a voucher for entrance to the Wonderland on Sunday, November 20.
The vouchers will be distributed only while supplies last.
“It’s big. If it wasn’t for our sponsors and volunteers, we wouldn’t be able to have this event,” said Stacey. “Everyone is fantastic, the decorations are great.”
This year’s decorations were made and designed by Vicky Diabo, and five new tree sponsors have joined the roster of Christmas trees for the event, cementing the Wonderland as a true community space.
“It just shows what a community can really do, how everyone can come together for something so special,” said Skye-Delisle. “It shows how good this community is.
And how incredible it is to be a part of a community like this.”
Skye-Delisle recalled how in 2013, her daughter Karonhiaráhstha participated in KMHC’s annual Give Where You Live campaign, taking part in a video and photo project for the hospital after being asked to join the campaign during a doctor’s visit.
After Karonhiaráhstha passed away suddenly, the family decided to continue fundraising for KMHC in her honour.
“At the time it was Charleen Schurman who was working at the Kateri Memorial Foundation, and she said ‘let’s try it, we’ll put it in memory of your daughter and let’s see how it goes’,” explained Skye-Delisle.
“And the rest is history. It took off, and it’s grown ever since.” “Here we are in our eighth year. I never would have thought it would get so big,” she added.
It’s no surprise that the people of Kahnawake come together with such abundance each year to support such an important community initiative.
But it continues to touch Skye-Delisle, who is always grateful for those who continue to make the event what it is today.
“I always want to thank everyone,” she said. “All our tree sponsors, our volunteers, and our community. Without them, we couldn’t put something like this on. So I thank them.”