As dedicated members of CFAX Santas Anonymous, Saanich’s Jacki and Lawrie Smith gave little thought to the lack of chatter about the organization’s 2015 Volunteer of the Year Award.
The annual award had been omitted from conversation during recent planning sessions, which was unusual, but Lawrie eventually accepted the award was undergoing a change in format and was on hiatus.
It wasn’t easy, but CFAX Santa’s Anonymous director Christine Hewitt and president Dan Deringer pulled off the surprise, honouring the longtime Saanich couple at a recent function as this year’s award winners. It’s not just for their efforts in 2014, but for the past 25 years.
“It was a total surprise to us. There was talk of redoing the community service awards and a few other things, so it came as a total shock to both of us,” Lawrie said. The couple first started with Santas Anonymous as grocery packers in the basement of the old post office on Government Street in the 1980s. Eventually, they grew with the organization and found roles that suited their strengths. For Lawrie, it really took off in 2006, when he retired as the former manager of a DND supply warehouse in Esquimalt.
“Ever since then I’ve run our Christmastime warehouse, go figure,” Lawrie said.
Jacki’s almost retired. The former office manager still works two days a week for Island Asphault, which graciously gives her the time off in November and December to work full time with Santa’s.
The Smiths are also involved with the volunteer program, are helping launch Santas Anonymous initiative Kids Helping Kids (a fairly recent initiative in its infancy), and are taking on the lead to co-ordinate all the road marshals (approximately 100) for the upcoming Oak Bay Half Marathon on May 24.
“The (Smiths) are always on board and leading, including special events through the summer time,” said Hewitt, Santa’s only paid employee.
“Lawrie gathers people, he knows how to bring them tighter and organize them like no other, and Jacki is the person in the partnership who is organized administratively. They make a great partnership as profound leaders, cheerfully engaged in their duties, and when you have leadership like them, others become involved.”
Santas has been a nomadic organization moving across the region throughout the years, from the (vacant) Hudson’s Bay, to Keating Cross Road. Its currently stationed in the former Emily Carr Library. Saanich has donated the old library space to Santas Anonymous since October but only until June. Beyond that, Santas doesn’t know.
“Having a space all year round is so important, it’s what we need right now,” Jacki said. “I love the direction it’s going in, we’re growing in leaps and bounds, and it’s exciting to see a charity named Santa expand year-round, and to see people recognize the different things we’re doing.”
As CFAX Santas Anonymous runs a variety programs the Smiths are part of a number of initiatives, apart from being the workshop coordinators, leading the entire holiday gift program for last five years.
“Volunteers are a different breed,” said Jacki, grandmother of five, all who volunteer.
“I wish there were more in this world. You have to be in that right place to know you can give up part of your life to others, and the more you it’s instilled in children, the more likely they’ll volunteer too.”
DID YOU KNOW?
- Sunday is the start of National Volunteer Week in Canada, April 12 to 18. Every three years volunteer.ca runs a survey on volunteerism in Canada, tracking not only the numbers but also the trends.
- Volunteers are always in demand, even when numbers are healthy, which they are at many organizations in Saanich, particularly senior-oriented groups such as Saanich Volunteer Services.
- The most recent volunteer.ca study showed Canadians volunteered close to two billion hours in 2013. However, the survey also indicates that 12.7 million Canadians volunteered in 2013 compared to 13.3 million in 2010. Youth (15 to 19 years) engage with about 66 per cent volunteering an average of 110 hours per year.
- Though volunteer rates decrease with age, older adults (55 and over) continue to contribute the most (39 per cent). Notably, Canadians between the ages of 35 to 44 saw a six per cent drop in their volunteer rate last year compared to the previous survey.