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Penetang Home Hardware offering sensory-sensitive photos with Santa

'I just really like this idea because it's important to me to see that everybody has an opportunity to visit with Santa,' says store owner

Santa Claus is getting photographed with even more children this Christmas with a sensory-sensitive hour at the Penetanguishene Home Hardware on Saturday.

For the first time, the store has partnered with the Children's Treatment Network (CTN) to provide a quiet hour for children with disabilities and development needs to get a free photo with Santa at the 2 Poyntz St. location from 9 to 10 a.m.

It's part of a series of free, inclusive holiday events organized by the CTN across Simcoe County and York Region. There are also inclusive events in Alliston and Barrie on Dec. 7 and one in Collingwood on Dec. 18.

"This is the first time that CTN has partnered with a business in the Midland area to offer a sensory-friendly event with Santa Claus," said Angela Paylor, a community and family coordinator with CTN.

CTN supports over 29,000 kids and youth with disabilities and developmental needs within Simcoe County and York Region. 

During the sensory-friendly time slot, three families are registered for every 10 minutes. This decreases the amount of time kids are waiting. It provides more time for kids to be supported through the transition to have a picture with Santa, said Paylor.

"If needed, alternative seating arrangements, lighting adjustments and noise reduction can be made to decrease the demand for a child’s sensory system. This event also offers families an opportunity to see how their child fairs with this kind of experience in a supportive and accessible environment."
The Village Square mall offers accessible parking spots, entrance and washrooms. 

Following the quiet hour in Penetanguishene, Santa will remain on his sleigh and see more children from to 10 a.m. to 12 p.m., have lunch to keep up his strength, and meet more children from 1 to 3 p.m. The photos are free, but people are asked to make a donation of either a toy or food that goes to the Penetanguishene St. Vincent de Paul Society for its Christmas toy and food drives.

Store owner Kate Smith said the business has run a food and toy drive for many years. This is the third year she has offered a free photo with Santa for a donation after hearing mall Santa photos can cost $30 or more.

MidlandToday called Georgian Mall in Barrie and was told it offers three Santa photo packages, priced $39.99, $44.99 and $50.99.

"I'm mortified by that. Not everybody can afford that. So, we say with a donation of a toy or food, we give you a picture for free. It's about the magic of Santa," said Smith.

Home Hardware is providing a four-by-six-inch print in a seasonal folder, on the spot. Photography is done by staff member Megan Smith.

The store was contacted by the CTN to see if it would offer the sensory hour photo with Santa.

"I'd never heard of them, but I was very excited to join forces with them because not everybody can handle all the noise and the lights and the excitement. So, if we can offer a safe space for people to come in and enjoy the magic of Santa, then why not?" said Kate Smith.

"I just really like this idea because it's important to me to see that everybody has an opportunity to visit with Santa."

The store has a custom-made wood sleigh designed, built and painted by Georgian Bay District Secondary School wood shop students. It also has a bench beside Santa for children who want to be near him but not too close.

In addition to the photos, there will be a craft table with various activities.

Penetanguishene Home Hardware also runs a daily riddle contest in December, posting on its Facebook page. A nightly post announces the winner of a daily prize.

"We've developed quite a following," said Smith.

Next year, Smith would like to offer the sensory-sensitive hour more than once.

Families interested in the sensory-sensitive hour need to register an appointment time with the CTN. Photos during the sensory hour do not require a donation.

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Gisele Winton Sarvis

About the Author: Gisele Winton Sarvis

Gisele Winton Sarvis is an award winning journalist and photographer who has focused on telling the stories of the people of Simcoe County for more than 25 years
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