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A Very Merry October Christmas

Christmas came 2 months early for one small Ontario town. The residents of St. George, located 45 minutes southwest of Oakville, decked the halls, trimmed their trees and even had a visit from Santa to celebrate one last Christmas for a special little boy named Evan.

Evan Leversage, aged 7, is well known and considered a local hero around St. George, a community of approximately 3200 people. Diagnosed at the age of two with brain cancer, after a CT scan revealed the awful reason why he was having trouble seeing,  Evan has lost the sight in one eye, endured rounds of intense chemotherapy, surgeries and many hospital stays – more than any small child should have to face. Staying strong through this fight, Evan and his mom, Nicole Wellwood, who has been chronicling Evan’s Journey with Childhood Cancer, learned earlier this year that his tumor was growing more aggressively, and radiation was the only option left.  After many rounds of radiation, leaving Evan tired and weak, they received encouraging news that the tumour had stabilized. Slowly gaining his strength back and eager to go back to his Grade 2 class at school, a few short weeks later, everything changed. At the end of September, an MRI revealed that the tumor had grown and doctors weren’t sure how much time Evan had left.

Determined to fill Evan’s final days with happiness and hope, and since there was no guarantee Evan would make it until Christmas, Nicole’s cousin Shelly Wellwood, had an idea. She handed out posters mid-October to their St. George community, encouraging them to hang their Christmas lights up early for Evan since their family would be celebrating his last Christmas on October 26th, and Shelly thought it would be nice for Evan to see a few beautiful, twinkling lights.

On October 14th, a local flower shop posted Shelly’s flyer on their Facebook page, and the celebration grew from there. Shelly set up a Facebook page called “Christmas in St. George” and though short notice, people from all over the community started to ask what they could do to help, from hanging lights and other decorations, to purchasing gifts for Evan and his two brothers, to providing meals and donations for their family. There were suggestions to have carolers visit his home and even putting together a parade in Evan’s honour.

Suggestions grew into actions and a work bee was formed to transform the downtown into a Christmas wonderland. Friends and neighbours went above and beyond and decked out their homes and yards with Christmas lights, bathing the entire town in the glow – more than Shelly and Nicole could have imagined. But the town didn’t stop there. Within five days, a route was planned for a Santa Clause parade to go past Evan’s home on Saturday, October 24th and they had more than 240 float applications pour in.

As parade day approached, the townspeople were busy wrapping gifts, hanging gold ribbons to symbolize the fight against childhood cancer, and even covering Evan’s yard with “snow.” It seemed that overnight the town had transformed from Thanksgiving and Halloween decorations to a Winter Wonderland.

More than 7000 people, including SpongeBob, Batman and the Grinch, turned out to celebrate with Evan and his family, watching the parade of carolers, police cars, fire trucks, and animals. As the merriment was in full swing and as candy was passed around to the kids, it was hard to believe it was only October. Even Santa left his post at the North Pole and traveled to St. George where Evan got to ride in his sleigh!

The story of what one small town was doing for one special little boy spread like wildfire and soon was being picked up by newspapers and television stations, not only throughout Ontario, but across Canada and the United States, and even around the world. Prayers, good thoughts, well wishes and “Merry Christmas’s” started filling up Shelly’s Facebook page from as far away as Argentina, Sri Lanka, Ghana, Sweden, Italy, and many other places, even getting a shout-out from celebrity Ashton Kutcher. Pictures were posted showing how folks from around the world were celebrating early with Evan as they hung Christmas lights and decorations in their homes. Christmas cards addressed to Evan and his brothers came in droves. Even still, Evan insists on opening his cards himself, and that each one be read. Gifts flooded their home, and many were donated to the Children’s hospital for those who are also battling the horrible disease of cancer.

The amazing effort put in by St. George and surrounding area, even made news in Ontario’s Parliament when MPP Chris Ballard publically congratulated the community and wished Evan a Merry Christmas, with Parliament giving them a standing ovation for their wonderful supporting spirit.

A GoFundMe page has been set up under the name of “One Last Christmas” for those who wish to contribute financially to Evan’s family. The funds raised will not only help with immediate living expenses so they can focus on making the most of their final weeks together, but to create an education fund for Evan’s brothers. At the time of publication, more than $45,000 has been raised by almost 1000 people.

While the magical day tuckered Evan out, he truly believed that it was Christmas, which is what his family had hoped. But this event went far beyond giving one brave little boy a very special day. It evolved from a town coming together to hang a few Christmas lights to something much greater – it gave a voice to those who struggle for survival or worse, don’t make it to that next holiday, and for the families and friends that have to say goodbye far too soon. It helped to raise awareness about childhood cancer and in the midst, brought the whole world together, even for a brief moment, to fulfill the dreams of a heroic little boy.

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