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Santa lives in Vankleek Hill


Customers choose a child by age and gen- der and bring a new wrapped present to the restaurant. “It doesn’t matter what you buy, it’s not a competition,” said Gouskos. “Maybe one person will buy a Tonka truck, and another will buy colouring books from the dollar store. It doesn’t reallymatter what you give as long as you give from the heart. Everybody gets a gift and it doesn’t cost the food bank anything.” The ages and genders of the children receiving gifts will be put up on the wall at Nicko’s onNovember 23. Customers can go in and choose who they would like to get a gift for. “Irene Howes, Donna Dandy, and Karen Mode are the little elves at the food bank that make sure the gifts go where they are supposed to.” Gouskos said the first year they started, they were given 10 or 15 names, but this year people seem to be struggling a little more. “Last year there were 41 names,” said Marc Seguin, Champlain council member. This year, they are already up to 63 names.” “We don’t realize it’s getting harder for people,” said Gouskos. “Not everybody can go out and buy gifts. “It’s a sign of the times,” said Champlain Mayor Gary Barton. “This kind of thing shows you what our community is all about,” smiled Gouskos. “Everybody here has their heart in the right place.”

For 19 years now, Louise Gouskos, co- owner of Niko’s Restaurant in Vankleek Hill, has been collecting toys to donate to the children in the area. Gouskos started collecting toys when she and her husband Nicko first opened the res- taurant across the street fromwhere it is now. “I started with Roger Belanger, when he was in charge of the food bank. He was always so wonderful,” said Gouskos. “He would give us the sex and ages of the children and our customers would buy the gifts.” Gouskos and Belanger had a talk one day and decided that no child should wake up Christmas morning without gifts under the tree. “Roger had a hard life, so he knewwhat it was like,” explained Gouskos. “We do this for the kids. It’s not about me. I don’t want to take credit. I’m not doing this; it’s the customers and the community.” Gouskos said she has regular customers who give gifts every year. Some customers make sure she has the gifts before they go away for the winter. “I have one customer that buys a gift once amonth,” she exclaimed with a smile. “So he gives me 12 gifts a year. He doesn’t have any more money than you or me, but he wants to make sure all the kids get a gift.” The restaurant works with the Vankleek Hill Food Bank to donate gifts to children of families who receive Christmas baskets.

For 19 years now, Louise Gouskos has been collecting toys for local children.

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