eff Fisher’s efforts to honour his own personal hero have earned him hero’s recognition in his own right.
Fisher, an Oak Bluff West resident, is one of 2016’s five Our Manitoba Heroes honourees, recognized as part of an initiative which celebrates everyday people doing extraordinary things.
Fisher began to focus on helping others after the death of his grandfather, Sam Rhynard, in 2002.
"He was my hero figure as a child. I wasn’t ready to let him go," he said. "So the first year after he passed away, I wanted to create a meaningful way to memorialize him."
He reached out to some inner-city councillors who provided names of people in need of a little holiday cheer around Christmastime.
"I dressed up as Santa Claus and had a couple friends dress up as elves. We went down to three different homes and provided a real Christmas," he said. "We brought in a Christmas tree with all the decorations, individual presents, hot turkey dinner, and spent part of the day with them."
For the next several years, he quietly continued with his tradition. Finally, people started to ask where he disappeared to during the first week of December every year.
"When I told them what I did, people wanted to pitch in. It grew, and last year we had over 5,000 people involved. We had 11 different schools doing fundraising, plus many sports organizations and a bunch of dinners that donated money," he said.
"One Christmas, we were up to 250 families that we provided real Christmases to with everything you can imagine."
Fisher soon discovered that many athletes at his business, Elite Performance Centres, also wanted to help. They began organizing efforts under the name Project ECHO (Elite Co-operative Help Organization).
"We found ourselves in inner-city missions and donating time to families that needed us. Most recently, we got the ball rolling and partially funded and built a commercial kitchen at Lighthouse Mission, which previously was only able to serve about 120 bowls of soup a day. Now they can serve over 500 hot meals a day," he said.
"We’re also doing some work with spinal cord injuries and are still very involved with the inner city."
Many volunteers from Elite remain involved in Project ECHO, which is now a not-for-profit organization.
Perhaps best of all, Fisher’s altruistic efforts are being emulated by his son, Sam, the namesake of his heroic grandfather. Sam, a Grade 1 student, wants to be just like his dad when he grows up.
As for the Manitoba Heroes recognition, Fisher humbly accepts the honour.
"It was a huge surprise," he said. "I actually try to stay as far out of the spotlight as I can with my involvement with charity because that’s the antithesis of why I do it."
Looking ahead, Fisher is already planning the biggest and best Christmas project yet.
"The whole goal is to get Winnipeggers to help Winnipeggers," he said. "We’re very fortunate to have been supported by really great people who bought into the vision."
Fisher, along with the four other Our Manitoba Heroes, will be recognized at a gala event on Sat., Sept. 17 at Club Regent Event Centre. Proceeds will support ANAVETS, Broadway Neighbourhood Centre and Wildlife Haven Rehabilitation Centre.