The elves are back at the Santas Anonymous workshop, gearing up for another season of confidential gift-giving.
The charity organization by CFAX is already at work collecting donations with its annual Tree of Wishes campaign in local shopping centres. Santas Anonymous decorates Christmas trees with “Santa Bear requests” – cards asking for donations of specific gifts – urging residents to buy a present for one of their less fortunate neighbours.
Staying true to its name, Santas Anonymous swaps out the recipients’ real names to ensure total confidentiality, setting themselves apart from other gift-giving groups.
“Asking for help is hard,” said executive director Christine Hewitt. “We want to make it accessible and know that the anonymous part of our name is that nobody’s going to know you needed that gift.”
Santas Anonymous was founded 38 years ago, after DFH realtor Marilyn Cann presented CFAX with the idea – something she had been doing herself for some time.
“Marilyn and her husband and family had been actually working the program from their basement several years before that,” said Hewitt.
Since then, the program has ballooned to serve 1,500 families every year with the help of 400 volunteers, who make up almost the entire workforce. Last year, volunteers put in more than 10,000 hours between the workshop, the warehouse and efforts at local malls.
And it’s not just toys they collect for those in need – Santas Anonymous also provides food hampers for many of its clients.
“Our food hampers are very unique compared to food bank food hampers,” said Dan Deringer, president of the CFAX Santas Anonymous Society. “A food bank food hamper, as much as it’s appreciated, you will get whatever is donated. Our food hampers, everybody gets the same thing – you don’t get somebody’s leftover tomato paste, sardines or something like that.”
Deringer noted they’ve enlisted a nutritionist to make sure clients are getting a healthy combination of foods, and they make every effort to buy quality, name-brand products rather than off-brand foods.
“We did a phone survey last year because we wondered how we were doing,” said workshop co-ordinator Lawrie Smith, who’s volunteered with Santas Anonymous for 25 years. “We phoned 40 some odd families and quit because all we got was praise for our food hampers.”
Santas Anonymous has had a lasting impact on the community, with many former recipients of toys and food hampers now donating their time and energy to the organization.
“We’ve actually got ladies working as volunteers here, and when they were small children – five or six years old – they actually got a gift from Santas Anonymous, and they are here with their own children volunteering,” said Deringer. “It’s a generational charity, really.”
Deringer said its recipients are largely the working poor, and the holidays are always a difficult time for them, especially if they have children.
“You’ve got to decide between rent, electric, the water bill, maybe new shoes or dental, and Christmas. That’s a tough position to put parents in,” he said. “This really alleviates that one fear, to provide a nice Christmas to their children, because the rest of the year sometimes is kind of tough.”
The Tree of Wishes campaign is already underway at Walmart Uptown and at Hillside, Mayfair, Westshore, and Bay Centre shopping centres. Santas Anonymous also has numerous other events to collect donations, including toy drives, Bottle Depot collections and its Miracle on Broad Street 12-hour radiothon, which raises money for the food hampers.
The radiothon takes place at the Santas Anonymous headquarters, 1420 Broad St., on Dec. 11 from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. The Tree of Wishes campaign runs until Dec. 13.
For more information about all Santas Anonymous events and ways to donate, visit cfaxsantas.com.