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Santa's Anonymous delivering Christmas cheer

When Cold Lake resident Raynelle Jackson wanted to give her kids a Merry Christmas, she turned to Santa's Anonymous. "I really appreciate them a lot and it helps me in the end," she expressed.
BNV.2019.08.12.Santas Anonymous
At Santa's Anonymous headquarters, volunteers and Grand Centre Lions Club members like Karen Murray are hard at work wrapping presents for girls and boys. - Photo by Robynne Henry

When Cold Lake resident Raynelle Jackson wanted to give her kids a Merry Christmas, she turned to Santa's Anonymous.

"I really appreciate them a lot and it helps me in the end," she expressed.

This is the 29th year the Grand Centre Lions Club has brought volunteers together to give Santa a helping hand by gathering and distributing gifts to hundreds of local families.

"We're an organization that collects and purchases toys for children that don't have the opportunity to have gifts under the Christmas tree," explained Margaret Bouchard, chairperson for Santa's Anonymous and president of the lions club.

For the past two years, the group has transformed a space at the Cold Lake Mini Storage into Santa's workshop.

In 2018, 186 families utilized the service, resulting in 457 children waking up to a Christmas miracle.

"If a family isn't finding that they can make it through Christmas, or they haven't got enough to get something for their children at Christmastime, they come and apply," explained lions club member and volunteer Butch Bouchard. "We will do our best to provide them with something that's going to be meaningful to the family for Christmas and make their life a lot happier."

If Santa's Anonymous wasn't offered, Margaret believes there would be a lot of children without presents on Christmas morning.

"A lot of people have lost their jobs and it's really unfortunate. I've been here 30 years and the community has grown since I first got here. I just find it unfortunate that so many people are down on their luck, but we'll be here no matter what to help whoever we can."

Margaret said the Cold Lake community is always willing to give them a helping hand.

"When we put the call out for toys and tell them what ages we're really low on, everybody pitches in. People will go out and purchase toys for that age group," she exclaimed, adding a difficult age group to buy for is 11 to 14-years-old.

"The older kids are the hardest, because a lot of us don't know what they play with nowadays other than video games."

When Jackson heard about Santa's Anonymous, it reinforced her belief that Cold Lake is "one of the nicest towns I've ever been in."

"It makes me feel really important knowing that they want to help me and my kids out."

When parents come to register at the Santa's Anonymous headquarters, located at the Cold Lake Mini Storage, Butch noted many express their appreciation for the initiative.

"They're very thankful for the program, and they like it because it's there and takes a lot of stress off of them."

Santa's Anonymous is open to families who live within the City of Cold Lake and surrounding area, including Cherry Grove, Riverhurst, Elizabeth Métis Settlement, and Cold Lake First Nations. The last day to submit children's names is Friday, Dec. 13.

"We have them come in and bring their Alberta health card for the child as well as their own identification so we know who it is, how to get a hold of them, and their address," detailed Butch. "We usually like to have suggestions from the families as to what the kids like to play with, because that helps us in selecting something for them, because then we're headed in the right direction for their kids."

Margaret stressed people can sign up right until Dec. 13.

"People do call us at the last minute and we don't turn them away. They call and ask 'can we still register?' We say yes, because we're not going to say no because that would mean there's a child going without something on Christmas."

Applications can be filled out at Santa's Anonymous' headquarters at the Cold Lake Mini Storage, across the street from the Energy Centre, from Dec. 9 to 13 between the hours of 11 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Those looking to donate can drop off unwrapped toys at businesses throughout the city including Calendar Club and Lakeland Credit Union.

Robynne Henry, Bonnyville Nouvelle