Santas Anonymous generally fills up, helping 1,200 families get through the holiday season with food and gifts.
This year, they hit that maximum within 24 hours of the forms going out.
“Twelve hundred in one day – that was shocking. The need is real,” said Christine Hewitt, executive director of the CFAX Santas Anonymous Society. More than 2,300 children are among the registered.
“We take normally 1,200 families and we’ve already started to talk about how we can help some of the other agencies as well. We’ll probably have to help some more.”
A jump in early registration wasn’t unexpected, but last year there were 400 applications in the first day and 230 in the first day the year before, Hewitt said.
CFAX Santas Anonymous is 46 years old and the society spearheads a group called the Christmas Giving Network. Working together for the past 14 years, the network includes area food banks, community organizations, Santas Anonymous and the Salvation Army.
They developed a common application form that goes to all of the families in the Capital Regional District who apply for help over the winter. They go into a database so they know who has applied where, ensuring aid to as many people as possible.
Santas Anonymous maintains an alternative agencies list for those still taking applications. All agencies provide differing support based on things such as space, volunteers and funding.
For example, Santas focuses on kids, which includes groceries to provide for meals in the weeks when school breakfast and lunch aren’t options as well as grocery gift cards.
“There are so many diverse families that a turkey dinner might not be what they’re looking for,” Hewitt said.
As long as an agency is listed at cfaxsantas.com there’s still help available.
“Once they fill up they contact me and I take them off,” Hewitt said. The information is also available at local food banks, where personal relationships play a crucial role.
Alternate agencies include food banks on the West Shore and Saanich Peninsula as well as in Sooke and Victoria.
“I’ve seen some of the numbers and everybody’s filling up,” said Tyson Elder, operations manager of the Saanich Peninsula Lions Food Bank which helps households north of Sayward Road. “I think demand is going to be huge this year.”
Nationally, food bank visits this March were at an unprecedented level, according to Hunger Count 2023, a Food Banks Canada annual report. According to the count, in March there were more than 1.9 million visits to food banks across the nation, a 32-per-cent increase from record-setting 2022.
B.C. recorded 195,925 visits, a 20-per-cent increase over last year and a 57-per-cent increase since 2019.
“We’re feeling a bit of a strain from Santas filling up,” he said.
On the Peninsula, they’re planning for at least 400 hampers, but regular food bank client numbers from earlier in the year indicate it could be closer to 500.
“There are a lot of challenges and we just want to take some of those challenges away from other people, too,” Elder said.
“We’re looking forward to helping as many people as we can this year. I know it’s going to be a tough year, but it’s always a time of year we feel we help the most people. A lot of families walk away with smiles on their faces and very thankful. That’s why we do it.”
Their clientele ranges from single people to families of 12 and the hampers partner with the Sidney Lions who handle toys for the holidays.
Last month the agency helped 24 households in the large family (8-plus) category and 27 households in the 6-8 category.
“Those numbers are definitely rising. I think that’s just multigenerational families living in one place because that’s what they can afford,” Elder said.
The rising cost of living is showing on both sides, on the Peninsula, donations are down and client numbers have doubled.
“We’ve seen our donations drop considerably this year versus other years because everybody’s feeling the pinch,” Elder said.
The Goldstream Food Bank is holding out hope for donations as numbers there also surge.
The West Shore organization saw its biggest year for donations last year – with a surge that came close to being too late, president Gayle Ireland said.
“The community came through, that’s for sure,” she said. Last month the West Shore organization issued 507 regular food bank hampers up from about 380 for the same time the year before.
The organization planned for 700 hampers this year, building on the 634 handed out last winter.
“The need has gone through the roof, hence the Christmas need will be through the roof,” Ireland said.
Visit cfaxsantas.com to see the list of alternative agencies with space remaining or ways to give.