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Of pets, kids and Santa Claus

If there's a theme in Vicky Zanatta's work as a volunteer, it's kids and animals
Vicky Zanatta takes a break from Pet Photos, to pose with Santa Claus. SUBMITTED

Vicky Zanatta doesn’t belong to a group. She’s not a Lion, or a Civitan, or a Rotarian.

But for someone who’s not a card-carrying member of a service club, she manages to devote a lot of hours to volunteer work, especially behind the scenes.

From the years when she worked at Kodak back in the 1990s, and took on the Christmas party, dressing up as a clown and filling balloons with helium, to her volunteer work in Bradford, she admits, “I never could say no.”

She worked for Kodak for 10 years, taking charge of the Athletics committee, putting together a championship Volleyball team to play in Charity Tournaments, and raising funds for charities like Children’s Wish.

Zanatta began volunteering in Bradford in 2008, when she became involved in the Santa Claus Parade, using her technical and photography skills to digitize the Parade Committee logo and website, and photograph the floats.

Until last year, she helped act as parade marshal for the Bradford Leo Club, “making sure they were handed off to their parents.”

At Fieldcrest Elementary School, she volunteered to help organize the hot lunch program – an exercise in logistics and scheduling worthy of a NASA engineer.

Zanatta would arrange for local vendors approved by the School board to bring in hot lunches and fresh milk five days a week, prepare order sheets three months at a time, set up spread sheets for each class, and keep track of payments, including the “small mark-up” that allowed the program to raise funds for the school.

“It’s a whole production,” she said, giving credit to her team. “There’s an awesome group there. You really can’t do it without the parent volunteers.”

When she opened her own business, ZWoman Graphics and Photography, she joined the Bradford Board of Trade, serving as Secretary for two years. That was when two of her “passions” intersected. “My favourite time at the BBT was when we were creating the floats (for the Santa Claus Parade) in my garage,” she said.

Her volunteer work hasn’t stopped there. One year, when they didn’t have a coach, Zanatta coached the Bantam Girls Basketball team for the South Simcoe Basketball Club – and led the girls to victory. She wasn’t exactly a novice, coming to the sport out of the blue; she played basketball from the age of 12 to the age of 25, and competitive volleyball from 12 until she was 30.

Last year, she helped coach the Intermediate Girls basketball team at Fieldcrest. She has also volunteered with the Curling club, helping to feed the high school teams entered in the Gore Mutual Ontario Curling Championships.

But she is perhaps best known in town for donating her time and photography skills to the ‘Pet Photos with Santa’ event, held at Bradford’s Pet Valu every year – with the proceeds going to the Lions Foundation of Canada Dog Guide program.

“It’s always been second nature,” Zanatta said of her volunteer work. “Something needs to be done and no one steps up? I put my hand up.”

It’s not only been a matter of ‘giving back’ to the community, but of setting an example for son Alex and daughter Hélène.

“My children understood what volunteering is about, and what it means to give back,” Zanatta said. Alex graduated high school with about 220 volunteer hours; the minimum required is 40. And Hélène currently has 180 hours, “and she’s only in Grade 10.”

Their commitment began when Zanatta was volunteering with the Santa Claus Parade committee. Both children walked the entire parade route dressed as costumed characters.

They are now members of the Bradford Leo Club, a Junior Service Club associated with the Lions, and Zanatta has taken on another role: “Driver – I take them to the meetings and back,” ferrying up to 7 Leos at a time.

Until now, she has avoided formally joining the Lions, although she’s always been available to lend a hand. But if her children plan to play a greater role, she admitted it may be time to sign up.

Zanatta has now gone back to work full-time, but still intends to volunteer, although work is “crimping a bit of that.” She has all but closed her photography business, except for a handful of regular customers. She doesn’t charge them; just tells them to donate what they feel is an appropriate amount to Pet Appreciation Month (her own dogs have largely been rescues) or Pet Photos with Santa at Pet Valu, “or a charity of your choice.”

Zanatta is passionate about the Lions Dog Guide program. At this year’s Pet Photos with Santa, she took 655 photos.

Working at an elementary school, she said, “I see the kids, the families that will use the services from Dog Guides of Canada” – not just seeing-eye dogs, but seizure dogs, and autism support dogs.

And that seems to be the theme, in all of her volunteer work. “Even the fundraising and volunteering I did when I was younger seemed to be towards kids and animals,” Zanatta said. “They are the most vulnerable.” And the most fun.

 “You do a little bit here and there,” she said. “And if you do it with the kids, then they learn too.”

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Miriam King

About the Author: Miriam King

Miriam King is a journalist and photographer with Bradford Today, covering news and events in Bradford West Gwillimbury and Innisfil.
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