What started in 2004 as a humble initiative by three Islanders looking to spread some cheer has taken on a life of its own to become a Christmas tradition.
The P.E.I. charity Santa’s Angels made surprise Christmas morning visits to more than 330 homes around the Charlottetown area this year.
The group’s annual outing sees Santa himself, as well as several elves, deliver some cheer, gifts and food to families in need.
Don Wright, the original Santa for the group, recalled the year the initiative started in 2004.
At the time, Wright, Kenny Zakem and Father Stephen Allen went out with a couple big bags of toys, which were leftover from a previous fundraiser, to give out at Christmas.
“We just knocked on doors, we didn’t have the knowledge (of who lived in the homes) we just winged it,” said Wright. “And the need was there.”
The group has only grown since then. It now includes more than 100 volunteers who not only go out on Christmas Day, but also spend the months before gathering donations and helping at fundraiser events in support of the group.
“The really beautiful thing is there are all these volunteers now and it’s good for them. It’s not just good for the people who are receiving, it’s good for the people who are volunteering,” said Wright, referencing that many volunteers find the outing to be extremely meaningful.
In fact, some volunteers are grateful individuals who have been visited by the Santa’s Angels in the past.
“They know the feeling of receiving from us and they want to be on the other end, giving to make people happy,” said Zakem. “It really makes it special to see that.”
The group personalizes packages given to families, who are usually nominated online through the Santa’s Angels website. The gift packages include toys, clothes, toiletries and food.
The group also makes visits to the QEH, provincial addictions treatment facility and palliative care centre, and a number of long-term care facilities.
The group ended this year’s outing with a few surprise visits in Charlottetown.
Four-year-old Keidi Cani was one of the youngsters overjoyed to get a surprise visit from Santa.
Cani was celebrating Christmas with his mother Eugena and father Skerdi.
The three were spending the day on their own, since most of the family is living in Albania, making the visit from Santa a welcome surprise.
“They made our day,” said Eugena. “We feel in the spirit now.”
The group also gave out 600 sleeping bags for the P.E.I. sleeping bag project this year.
Zakem said this year went extremely well and thanked volunteers as well as those in the community who support the group.
“From giving toys and raising funds to lending us the things we need to make it happen… just huge thank you,” said Zakem, adding that the group is also willing to help others to start the initiative in other communities across the province.
While the group has become a presence in Charlottetown and surrounding area, Zakem said they get requests every year from other areas of the province they are unfortunately unable to take.
“We always say maybe one day we can get out that far,” said Zakem. “If anyone is interested in having it in their community, we have a lot of good tools and the experience to help them grow in their area.”
More information on Santa’s Angels and ways to reach the group can be found at www.santasangels.ca and the group’s Facebook page.