Coffee shop sing-along gives preview of the big Dec. 2 concert

Families meet Santa and enjoy mini-concert on Danforth in preparation for this year's Riverdale Share community fundraising event

Janna Eed, 6, and her younger brother Dan Eed, 3, cannot contain their excitement while showing Santa Claus the drawing they gifted to him at Riverdale Share’s Second Cup Sing-Along. Louise Allyn Palma/ Toronto Observer

The Christmas spirit spilled out onto Danforth Avenue from the Second Cup café on Saturday, thanks to the Riverdale Community Association. Children lined up to catch a glimpse of a special guest, Santa Claus, and join a sing-along of classic Christmas carols as a preview of the group’s big concert two weeks later.

“We love it. We come every year,” said Summer Altamimi, who attended with her children Janna, 6, and Dan Eed, 3. They could not wait to speak to Santa Claus.

The event was a thank you to donors and to Second Cup, as well as a sneak preview for the Riverdale Share Concert on Dec. 2, now in its 26th year.

The concert was conceived out of founders’ Bill Usher and Maggie Calledine’s dream to put out a community show, according to the show’s executive director Susan Baker.

Baker attended the first concert in 1991. She reminisced about how exciting the concert was at its debut, with an audience of only 30 people and tickets costing $3. She went with her family and her nine-year-old while pregnant.

“It was such a magical show,” Baker said. “We were all huddled together. At that time the (Danforth) Music Hall was in pretty bad shape. Pieces of the ceiling were falling, and it had been really neglected. But everyone was singing; there was a sing-along and it really kicked off the season. It really put us in the holiday mood.”

She decided then she would volunteer the following year.

Others have grown up with the concert. Baker’s daughter began as an elf for the concert and now handles ticket sales. Baker said her granddaughter will likely be an elf next year. Charities that have received money from the event have flourished alongside the concert’s success.

Kristin Briggs, volunteer and performer, leads the Christmas carol sing-along with husband Steve Briggs, band leader and co-musical director for Riverdale Share, on guitar.

Sponsorship money goes to the production costs of the concert, while the money raised from ticket sales all goes to charities.

“Last year, we gave away around $50,000 to recipients,” Baker said.

The Blake Boultbee Youth Outreach Service (BBYOS) has been involved with Riverdale Share for more than 20 years. BBYOS was founded in 1989 by Rod Cohen to help people who are at risk and vulnerable, through counselling, treatment, life skills training and community outreach.

Cohen began a relationship with Riverdale Share when he distributed 1,000 appeal letters throughout the neighbourhood for his organization and received only two responses — one from a woman who wanted to donate, the other from the Riverdale Share’s co-founder, Bill Usher.

“The mandate of Riverdale Share is to give these funds to support grassroots community organizations, so my organization is the perfect fit for what Riverdale Share does,” Cohen says. “I’m honoured to be a part of it and feel a responsibility to work with them.”

Now he takes the time to volunteer as an assistant manager with the stage crew for Riverdale Share.

Cohen spoke about the importance of Riverdale Share’s role in the community. “It brings people together to build the community in a positive healthy way…. Every year 1,000 people come and enjoy and experience the show, and they get to in some way appreciate how a handful of people all come together to raise between $30,000 and $50,000 to give away to charities like mine that really need the money.”

The organization is led by volunteers, who run the entire production. Local performers and musicians donate their time.

Blair Packham has performed a few times for the Riverdale Share Concert. He sang, “Happy Xmas, War is Over” by John Lennon, as the final song for his first performance at the concert four years ago.

Susan Baker had called him to fill in for a performer who had to drop out of the concert last minute and he was thrilled to be part of the community event as a musician and a local resident.

“As regular performers, your income can be limited and it can be hard to make a monetary contribution to something,” Packham said. “Yet, you want to feel like you’re doing something positive and this is an opportunity to do that. And to give back in a way that helps raise actual money, for actual people. And you really feel like you’re affecting people’s lives in a positive way.”

Baker still remembered the first time she sat in on the concert, unfamiliar with the community as a relatively new resident to the neighbourhood.

On the day of the concert, “I really felt a sense of my community sitting there that day,” she said. “And I feel it today; it’s exactly the same. On the day of the show, this is what it’s all about. Neighbours helping neighbours, people coming together, everybody doing their part. If you’re there, you’re playing a part because you bought a ticket, and that ticket goes to help your neighbours.”

More information on the Dec. 2 concert can be found on the website at

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Posted: Nov 19 2018 8:20 am
Filed under: Arts & Life