Santas Anonymous use old Emily Carr library branch to spread holiday cheer

Empty building temporarily donated to CFAX Santas Anonymous for holiday season as charity seeks permanent home for 2015

Jackie Smith of CFAX Santas Anonymous stands in front of the former GVPL Emily Carr library branch at Blanshard Street and Saanich Road. Saanich donated the space to the charity organization this season to assemble Christmas packages for 1

For the past two months, more than 500 “elves” have been sorting, packing and prepping gift packages for 1,400 Greater Victoria families in the former Emily Carr Library branch at 3500 Blanshard St.

The building has been vacant since the Greater Victoria Public Library branch moved into Uptown in January 2014, and until today, the location of CFAX Santas Anonymous remained under wraps for security reasons.

“We’ve been homeless for 37 years,” said CFAX Santas Anonymous president Dan Deringer. “Every year, we start the process again of finding a space that can accommodate us. For 2015, that starts next week.”

The surprisingly nomadic charity organization provides 5,200 bags of groceries to families across the region each holiday season.

For this year’s work, crews used each and every room in the Emily Carr library, one of two facilities donated to the organization. (The old North Douglas Distributors warehouse off Boleskine Road is where the final package of toys and groceries are delivered by local firefighters or picked up by receiving families.)

“We’ve run this program from vacant schools, warehouses, storefronts and buildings,” Deringer said.

The retired DND worker has been with Santas Anonymous for four years. Between 2011 and 2013, they were blessed with the use of the vacated Richmond elementary school. But with the current seismic upgrade schedule, Richmond is an active school once again, as George Jay elementary students have moved in.

Saanich donated the old Emily Carr building to Santas Anonymous free of charge, but it’s unlikely it will happen again in 2015.

“There will be discussion in the new year and, likely, an engineering assessment to upgrade (the 1972) building,” said Harley Machielse, Saanich’s newly appointed director of engineering.  “Right now, there’s no plan for the building, so I can’t speculate too much, but I would think a future tenant is ideal.”

Selling the building has not been in the preliminary discussion, though Machielse wouldn’t rule it out.

“We have a lot to look at plumbing and seismic upgrading, if needed, so selling it is not on the radar, but we will need to know more about it before we can move forward,” he said.

It means Deringer and crew are back to the same place they are every January, putting their heads together in the executive directors’ home office.

“We knock on wood that something will come up. There’s a lot of hard work going into this, but we can’t streamline the process without a space,” Deringer said.

Ideally, the charity hopes to find an expansive space it can share with another tenant. Santas Anonymous would need to take over most of the building in November and December. From January to mid-October, they have an army of volunteers and a grant program to offer a partner willing to share the rental fees for a permanent location. Santas Anonymous programs such as Kids helping Kids run all year, but are not as demanding in terms of space.

reporter@saanichnews.com