Santa's Angels numbers up as volunteer group prepares for Christmas morning
Group will visit at least 473 families on Dec. 25
Organizers with Santa's Angels say demand for Christmas-morning visits on Prince Edward Island is up again this year.
Santa's Angels is an extended group of volunteers that carries out surprise Christmas-morning visits from Santa to families. Last year was the first time the service was available across the entire Island.
"We've increased again by at least 200 children that we're able to visit. So it's wonderful that we're able to get out and get to those people. It was a concern in the beginning, how are we going to do this organization in COVID?" said Jennifer Prinz with Santa's Angels.
The organization has submitted an operational plan to the Chief Public Health Office and will still be making house calls on Christmas morning, while incorporating COVID-19 restrictions.
"We're still able to go and bring Santa and the toys to the home," Prinz said. "I think people are expecting that, you know, we're doing Christmas socially distanced."
COVID-19 can't stop Santa
Instead of entering the homes, smaller teams of three or four volunteers will make porch drop-off deliveries with Santa, who has left a note in the bag explaining the situation.
In addition to the gifts that have been hand-picked for each child in the family, households also receive a food box and a box of personal care items with things like soap, razors and toothbrushes.
Something else that is changing with COVID-19: Santa is just for kids.
Typically the organization also does visits to long-term care homes, addictions treatment facilities and hospitals, but those visits will not go ahead under this year.
"It's very disappointing that we're not able to go out and bring Christmas cheer to people," Prinz said.
More cash donations, fewer toys
One of the challenges the organization has had to overcome has been preparing everything with fewer volunteers.
Prinz said financial donations have been "phenomenal" this year, but there have been fewer donations of toys.
"There's less people out, going to work, minimal hockey games, there's just less people out that are able to donate toys. So it's been a change of us as an organization," Prinz said.
"It has been a full-time job going out to purchase the toys as we need them … On Sunday, we had six teams packing their bags, which would have been 120 visits or 120 homes, which probably works into the hundreds of kids."
"It was a mass shop Saturday night and Sunday to get enough toys for each team."
Santa's Angels will be making at least 473 stops this year, but organizers said it's hard to know exactly why numbers are up.
As the effort grows year after year, the group has made more connections and have partners spreading the word to Island families more broadly, but the economic impact of COVID-19 is also undeniable.
Prinz said there are some families who donated last year, but will be receiving gifts this year.
"The fact that we can go and visit those extra families really makes a difference for all of us involved in the organization," she said.
"Christmas morning here is chaos, and it's wonderful chaos."