Thursday, December 8, 2022

After Wegmans takeover, clock ticking on finding new location for charity toy store

About 5,000 families were given Christmas presents in 2016 through the Salvation Army Hampton Roads Area Command’s Christmas Depot. (Adrienne Mayfield/Southside Daily)

VIRGINIA BEACH — Santa and his Hampton Roads helpers are looking for a new spot to set up a charity toy store that will provide about 5,000 families with presents in December.

For nine years, the Salvation Army Hampton Roads Area Command hosted its Christmas Depot toy store in an 80,000-square-foot warehouse owned by Mini Price Self Storage.

The Virginia Beach Boulevard business let the Salvation Army use the space rent-free, with the organization footing the bill for utilities and an annual fire inspection, organization member Jimmy Sisson said during a December interview.

Now, the warehouse is being converted into a Wegmans grocery store and will no longer be available for the long-planned charity that allows parents to pick out toys for their children.

In the past, the toys have reached up to 10,000 children in Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Portsmouth and Chesapeake, said James Allison, the area commander of the Salvation Army of Hampton Roads.

“We’re going to have to figure out the Depot because we can’t have nearly 10,000 children go without Christmas presents,” Allison said.

Allison said that the Salvation Army has sent out several request for space to various business in Hampton Roads, but so far no one has responded with a concrete plan.

Time is starting to run out. Allison said that the Salvation Army needs to find a new space by October if they’re going to pull the toy shop off.

Santa’s workshop doesn’t get set up overnight. The Salvation Army typically begins constructing the Christmas Depot in the summer, and families start registering for Christmas Assistance in August.

This year, registration for Christmas Assistance will likely be pushed back to October, Allison said.

The new location doesn’t have to have heat or be as big as the old warehouse — the Salvation Army is looking for space about half the size — but it does need to be near a bus line and centrally located. The area will need to have at least 200 parking spaces for families and volunteers, as well as a loading dock for bringing in toys.

The space also needs to be big enough to preserve the holiday shopping experience that makes the Christmas Depot so special for moms and dads.

“We’ll make whatever is made available work,” 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 last year.

“I have every ounce of faith inside me that someone is going to step up and we’ll have somewhere to do this,” Allison said. “It’s just a matter of getting the word out, and the right person hearing it and meeting the need.”

Mayfield can be reached at adrienne.m@wydaily.com.

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