Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris has taken a personal interest in helping the Bahamian people recover from Hurricane Dorian, which devastated the island in September.
Almost immediately following the storm, he announced the “Anglers for the Bahamas” effort to raise millions for relief efforts.
The campaign was seeded by an initial $1 million in support from Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s and an additional $1 million personal pledge from Morris.
Bass Pro Shops contributed thousands of essential supplies including family-sized tents, outdoor cooking kits and protein-rich Jack Links Beef Jerky.
So far, the “Anglers for the Bahamas” campaign as raised more than $4 million for relief efforts.
But Morris wanted to do more, said Convoy of Hope spokesperson Jeff Nene.
“He wanted to see the kids have fun and forget about the other things that are happening,” Nene said, recalling an earlier conversation with Morris. “He wanted to give them a special Christmas they would never forget.”
And this past week, Morris and Bass Pro Shops did just that.
Morris brought the Bass Pro Shops’ Santa’s Wonderland to Freeport, Bahamas. And for four days, Bahamian children and their families experienced Christmas — Bass Pro- style.
The event came just a few months after Hurricane Dorian destroyed 90 percent of the buildings in the most affected areas and left more than 70,000 people in need of food and water.
FOR ANY DISASTER, ‘THEY ALWAYS COME THROUGH’
At least 20,000 people were expected to visit the Bahamian Santa’s Wonderland, Nene said on Wednesday, the third day of the event.
Nene, who spoke to the News-Leader via phone from the event, recalled a conversation with a woman he met on the first night.
“She said, ‘You don’t understand. The people of the Bahamas have not had anything to come together and celebrate. And you have given us that,'” Nene said. “That moved me to tears even now.”
Nene described how the Bahamian’s tropical climate was transformed into a winter wonderland, thanks to a 40-by-150-foot tent, lots of air conditioning, a snow-making machine, some artificial snow, Santa Claus and several taxidermied reindeer.
Morris wanted to bring live reindeer, Nene said. They figured out a way to get the animals to the Bahamas, but there was no easy way to get them home. Luckily, Morris just happens to have a few taxidermied reindeer to spare.
Nene said families approached the Santa’s Wonderland by walking through an arch of Christmas lights with a snow-making machine spewing snow.
This was the first time for snow in the Bahamas, the release said, and no doubt a treat for children who got to experience their first snowball fight or make their first snowman.
As families entered the massive tent, they were surrounded by trees, crafts, games, artificial snow and, of course, Santa Claus.
There were multiple carnival rides at the event, bounce houses, a 60-foot slide for the kids, three NASCAR vehicles and a NASCAR racing simulator.
Nene said Bass Pro Shops essentially brought its annual Outdoor Days to the Bahamas, with air rifle and soft-tip archery stations, as well as a kayak pool.
Families were served a free meal that including conch fritters, a popular local seafood dish.
There were nightly fireworks displays, skydiving elves and hot air balloons.
The Atlanta-based band, Simply Irresistible, performed nightly.
And because Christmas is a time of giving, every guest left with presents, including toys for the children and much-needed groceries for adults.
“This event came from the mind and heart of Johnny Morris,” Nene said. “Bass Pro has been a partner with Convoy’s disaster relief for 20 years now. They have been a very solid partner.”
“Anytime there is a major disaster, they have always come through, either financial support or, sometimes even more importantly, in in-kind donations: tents, cook stoves, sleeping bags, you name it,” he said. “For us, the partnership is indispensable to what we do.”
Nene said Morris helped set up the event on Sunday and hung out with families on Monday.
“It was fun watching him. He was like a kid himself,” Nene said. “He enjoyed it so much. He would go around and talk to anyone who would talk to him, talk to the kids.
“The Bahamian people are very appreciative people. It’s been a great experience.”
A TRIBUTE TO A FRIEND
Supporting the Bahamas is personal for Morris, who has a deep connection to the popular fishing destination and the wonderful people who call it home, the news release said.
Morris and a local Bahamian fisherman, the late “Bonefish Willie” James Duncombe, who dedicated his life to the children of the Bahamas, became very close friends.
Duncombe, who was also a minister, married Morris and his wife and they named their son after him. This event is a tribute to Duncombe and his kind heart, the release said.
To help create the Christmas magic, Morris and folks from Bass Pro turned to many of their partners to navigate the vast logistical considerations necessary to execute an event of this scale on the island nation.
FedEx supplied cargo planes to help transport the supplies directly from “The North Pole” to the Bahamas. Coca-Cola provided thousands of free beverages for the event. Additionally, Kid Casters donated nearly $200,000 worth of rod and reel combos as Christmas presents with an additional 17,000 new toys from Todd and Johanna Schuring, owners of Tree House Kids.
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