Jackie Smith of Santas Anonymous holds the group’s signature bear in front of the former Emily Carr library in Saanich

Santas Anonymous crew looks for new home

Charity group's 2014 home is expected to be sold out by the District of Saanich

For the last two months of 2014, more than 500 elves secretly sorted, packed and prepped packages for 1,400 Greater Victoria families in the former Emily Carr library branch at 3500 Blanshard St.

The building was vacated last January when  the branch moved into Uptown. That made it a perfect fit for CFAX Santas Anonymous, a surprisingly nomadic charity organization that provides 5,200 bags of groceries to families across the region each holiday season.

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

Crews used every room in the former library, one of two facilities donated to Santas Anonymous this year. The old North Douglas Distributors warehouse off Boleskine Road was where 2014’s final package of toys and groceries were 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. During that time, they were blessed with the use of the vacated Richmond elementary. But with the current seismic upgrade schedule, Richmond is an active school once again: George Jay elementary is using it this year and Cloverdale students move for the 2015-16 school year.

Saanich donated use of the 1972-built 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 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.”

A sale of the property would put Deringer and crew 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,” he 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.

If you know of a large space that might work out, call 250-920-4644 or visit cfaxsantas.com.

editor@goldstreamgazette.com