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OPINION: Family brightening up the holiday calendar – 12 feet at a time

Tammie Willis’ attempt to attract a few trick-or-treaters to her neighbourhood has turned into something magical.
Valentine’s house at 177 Christina St. South.Photo courtesy, Avery Jeffrey
Ready for Valentine’s Day at 177 Christina St. South. Photo courtesy, Avery Jeffrey

Tammie Willis’ attempt to attract a few trick-or-treaters to her neighbourhood has turned into something magical.

“It was just a way to make people smile,” the Sarnia woman told me of her decision to decorate for Halloween for the first time last October — despite not having a single trick-or-treater in the previous 20 years.

“Things got pretty boring with COVID, so I said, ‘OK, let’s do it.’”

The result was a frightfest of ghouls, animatronics and a 12-foot skeleton, and a popular stop on Sarnia’s Haunted Halloween Tour.

The family handed out candy to hundreds of kids throughout the month, encouraging donations of socks (and collecting more than 600 pairs) for charity.

Residents from Village on the St. Clair, a retirement home just around the corner, would stop by regularly.

“One woman in a wheelchair came four or five times a day to help give me pointers on what should go where,” Willis said with a laugh.

She knew she couldn’t stop there.

In December, she and daughters Faith and Jericho transformed 177 Christina St. into a spectacular “Whoville” wonderland, complete with lights, displays, a donation ‘post office’ and a 12-foot Grinch.

“That was absolutely crazy,” said Willis. Their corner was flooded with visiting vehicles and delighted families, and the home won first prize in the Sarnia Celebration of Lights contest.

She collected hundreds of donations of hygiene supplies for the River City Shelter and Sarnia-Lambton Native Friendship Centre.

“The homelessness — it’s just crazy here in the city,” she said. “And we do get to see it first-hand. We’ve been here for twenty-something years and it has gotten really bad.”

Recently, a passerby asked her to call 911 because someone was nearly frozen to death in nearby Rainbow Park.

“They’re living along the fence, in the ditch and stuff,” she said. “The drug problem is horrible; and the mental health… people just have no hope.”

Some stop by regularly and Willis provides bowls of hot stew or a warm jacket. In summer, she and her daughters help clean up needles in the park.

“These are human beings, who belong to someone. Somebody loves them.”

She had planned to take a break in the New Year. But after a local mother asked on Facebook if she’d be decorating for Valentine’s Day - because it was her daughter Hailey’s favourite day - she couldn’t say no.

So the 12-foot Grinch was transformed into a 12-foot Teddy Bear.

She’s already preparing for St. Patrick’s Day (yes, a 12-foot leprechaun) and Easter, and dreaming up plans for next winter’s theme: The Island of Misfit Toys.

“I’ve gotten to know all the ladies over at Fabricland pretty well,” she said with a laugh.

I took my own daughter to see the home’s Valentine décor and take a photo, but Willis didn’t want to be in the shot. She doesn’t want any recognition, and though she has poured countless hours into brightening up the community, she brushes it off as the least she can do in these difficult times.

“It’s just, like, such a small thing,” she said.

Even though, we both know, it’s really something special.

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