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Christmas Fund: Salvation Army toy stores help parents 'shop' for gifts

Parents and caregivers can make an appointment and personally choose appropriate toys and gifts for all the children in their family.
From left, Salvation Army Major Sheldon Feener, Michelle O'Connor and Major Cathy Burrows set up the Salvation Army Citadel Toy Store this week. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

The Salvation Army runs a unique toy store that’s funded in part by the Times Colonist Christmas Fund.

Every parent wants to see their children happy, but for those with limited financial means or new to the country, finding money for Christmas presents can be a challenge. “No kid should have to go through Christmas without a gift,” said Major Sheldon Feener, who has experienced first-hand the look of joy on parents’ faces when they realize they can visit the Salvation Army’s toy store and put something under the tree for their children. “Every kid should experience the joy of opening a gift on Christmas Day.”

At the Salvation Army ­pop-up toy stores, parents and ­caregivers make an ­appointment and personally select appropriate gifts for all the children in their family.

This year, the pop-ups will open at the Salvation Army’s Victoria Citadel, Connection Point Church and Resource Centre on Goldstream Avenue and the High Point Community Church in Vic West, on Dec. 13.

The gymnasium at the ­Victoria Citadel will soon look like Santa’s workshop, with the charity’s staff serving as Santa’s helpers, assisting parents in navigating through stations of toys and other gifts sorted by age, gender and interests.

There will be about 3,000 toys for parents to choose from, from Lego building sets to toy electric guitars, Barbie dolls, science kits, stuffed toys, crafts and ­everything in between. There are items appropriate for children from infants to teens, with the older children typically given gift certificates so they can purchase something ­themselves.

Each eligible family will have the ­opportunity to pick up three gifts per child — a large, medium and small — as well as a stocking stuffer. Families are also encouraged to avail themselves of a board game or puzzle.

Michelle O’Connor is the community ministries co-ordinator who greets the parents and introduces them to Major Cathy Burrows, a Salvation Army corps officer who helps the sometimes awestruck newcomers with their “shopping.”

“We have many who cry when they see what they can get their kids,” said O’Connor. “In the past, they would have been given a toy already wrapped — and not know if what was inside would be what their children would like. This way, they get to choose a toy appropriate to each child’s interests.” This year, there will also be a table with hand-knit items, including quilt blankets and throws, as well as toiletries, such as toothbrushes and toothpaste. Just like in some stores, the gym will have Christmas music playing in the background and free coffee as well.

While the majority of the toys are donated through toy drives, the Salvation Army also uses money supplied by the Times Colonist Christmas Fund to ­purchase specific toys that are in high demand.

“Demand is up about 30 per cent this year, and we are seeing new faces this year at our other programs,” said Burrows. “Some of them are Ukrainian individuals and families who have arrived here to escape the war in their country. It’s a big change for them, as they have never had to rely on charity back home.”

The “shoppers” can also pick up Fairway Market gift cards, which will enable them to purchase groceries to prepare culturally and religiously appropriate holiday dishes.

Once they are finished with their shopping, the parents are provided with recycled shopping bags to take home their gifts — not black garbage bags as in the past. “They get to leave here with their dignity intact,” said O’Connor.

This holiday season, the Salvation Army has been getting 10 applications a day on average. It expects to make Christmas merrier for about 600 children at the Victoria Citadel location and about 300 each at Connection Point Church and High Point Community Church. The Salvation Army in Greater Victoria can be contacted via ­

You can support the Salvation Army’s Christmas efforts, as well as its programs throughout the year, by donating to the Times Colonist Christmas Fund.


Donate online. Go to ­, which is open 24 hours a day and provides an immediate tax receipt.

Donate by mail. Send a cheque to the Times Colonist Christmas Fund, 201-655 Tyee Road, ­Victoria, B.C. V9A 6X5.

Donate by phone. Use your credit card by phoning ­250-995-4438 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday.

This year’s Times Colonist Christmas Fund campaign has received $259,573 in donations from its Nov. 12 launch to Dec. 1. The fundraising goal is $1 million.

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