Santa has elves everywhere, even in Hampton Roads.
Hampton Roads holiday helpers are normal people, like those working and volunteering at the local Salvation Army command. The organization plans all year to provide presents for families in need at the annual Christmas Depot charity toy store.
This year the Salvation Army Hampton Roads Area Command’s Christmas Depot provided toys, clothing and food for about 5,000 Hampton Roads families; but next year, they may not have a building to operate in.
For nearly a decade, the Salvation Army has hosted its Christmas Depot in an 80,000-square-foot warehouse owned by Mini Price Self Storage.
The business has let the Salvation Army use the warehouse rent-free, with the organization footing the bill for an annual fire inspection and utilities, said organization member Jimmy Sisson.
The set up has been perfect for the Christmas Depot, a long-planned event that involves hundreds of volunteers, dozens of United States Marines and donations from Toys for Tots, Operation Blessing International and the Virginian-Pilot Joy Fund.
The space has been well-used. Inside the warehouse, the Salvation Army has set up a charity toy store where parents picked out toys for their children. This year the shelves were lined with toy trains, blocks and Barbies — gifts that reached about 20,000 people, Sisson said.
But next year, the building, located at 4725 Virginia Beach Blvd in Virginia Beach, will be used for a new business purpose, meaning the Salvation Army must find a new place to set up Santa’s workshop.
“I know the landlord has a plan for this property,” Sisson said. “They’ve either done a deal or are close.”
Area Commander of the Salvation Army of Hampton Roads James Allison said the organization is grateful to the building’s landlords who have been generous with the space. But now work must be done to find a new space to call Christmas Depot headquarters by next summer.
The Christmas Depot doesn’t get set up overnight. The Salvation Army begins constructing the toy store in the summer and registering people for Christmas Assistance in August.
“We’ll start planning Christmas 2017 as soon as we stop here,” said James Allison, the area commander of the Salvation Army of Hampton Roads.
While the new location doesn’t have to have heat or be as big as the old warehouse — the Salvation Army is looking for a space about half the size — there are a few details that are non-negotiable: it must be near a bus line, be centrally located and be large enough to preserve the holiday shopping experience for moms and dads.
“They are able to pick toys they believe the kids would want. We don’t want to go to a pre-bagging process,” Allison said.
The Salvation Army has been spreading Christmas cheer to those in need for the 111 years it’s been in Hampton Roads. Leaders say the lack of a permanent building to host the Christmas Depot won’t stop them from striving to serve more families in 2017 than they did this year.
“Where? We’re just going to trust that God will provide for us,” Sisson said.
This story was published in partnership with WYDaily’s sister publication SouthsideDaily.com.