For 25 years, the Northern Lights Lions Club of Cold Lake has been playing Santa for hundreds of children throughout the area. This year is no exception.
The 25th annual Santas Anonymous will be commencing on Dec. 8 at 11 a.m. For two weeks, the Lions will be giving Santa a helping hand by collecting as many toys as possible for children aged newborn to 14 years old.
“The Lions Club saw the need for it 25 years ago and it's been growing ever since and it's a need that is still here in Cold Lake,” said Suzanne Deschamps, Lions member and Santas Anonymous organizer. “I think it's really grown; probably in the past four years it's really kicked into high gear.”
Santas Anonymous provides gifts for less fortunate families from right in Cold Lake, Cherry Grove, Cold Lake First Nations, as well as other surrounding areas. Last year, 300 children received around 700 toys, plus a number of stuffed animals.
“I like to give each family a board game. You see a family of three kids and mom and dad, I like to give them a board game to play as a family and reconnect over the holidays. Also, if you have two young girls, lets say, we'll give them some Barbie dolls and a fleece blanket – they were popular last year. Depending on how many stuffies I get, every family gets a stuffed animal, too,” explained Deschamps.
While they need toys for all ages under 14-years-old, Deschamps said in the past the biggest need has been for toys for preteen and young teen boys.
So far, Santas Anonymous has received overwhelming support from Cold Lake residents over the years in both toy and cash donations.
“It's awesome. The community really pulls together, we're really lucky here in Cold Lake; it's a strong community,” said Deschamps.
She recalled, “One year we had a lady come in and I was at the front desk and she gave me an envelope and I said 'oh, just a minute and I'll get you a receipt.' She donated $1,000 – 10 $100 bills. So that was pretty awesome.”
All of the cash donations collected go towards gifts to be given out that year. Regardless of the number of toys they receive, Santas Anonymous makes sure they all get donated.
“Last year, we had some left over from people who came in later and asked if they could still donate. We always have contact with the schools so we ask them for a family's name that they think would benefit. Every gift goes out all the time.”
As the name suggests, Santas Anonymous is just that – anonymous. Anyone who would like to benefit from the program just needs to fill out an application with their name, phone number, child's first name, gender and age. Once the application is complete and the gift has been given out, the information gets shredded. Applicants also need to show their and their child's healthcare card to prove Alberta residency.
With the current economic situation, Deschamps is expecting the need for Santas Anonymous to increase this year and she's crossing her fingers the community will support them once again.
“I'm a little bit concerned, not worried yet. I'll open my doors and I'll probably know within the first four days how things are going.”
Santas Anonymous headquarters are located at 5007 50 Ave. Cold Lake, beside the Cooperators insurance. They will be open 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. from Dec. 8 to Dec. 11 and again from Dec. 14 to Dec. 17. During that time, those looking to donate can stop by with new unwrapped toys or cash donations. Applications to be a recipient of Santas Anonymous can be made then as well.
Deschamps encourages everyone to do what they can to make sure every child in the area gets a present from Santa this Christmas.
“You know kids talk at school and say 'oh what did Santa bring you' and there's kids that say 'well Santa didn't come to my house' – we don't want that. Santa goes everywhere. There is a Santa Claus so (this way) the kid knows they're not forgotten.”