With a painful limp from 40 years as a tile layer and his small frame, Deni Bezeau would likely never be cast as Santa in Hollywood. But in Nanaimo’s Harewood neighbourhood, the humble retiree is joyfully filling that role for dozens of families this Christmas.
“I appreciate all that you do for us, Deni,” said Nanaimo resident and mom of two, Tammy Thorne. When she walked into Bezeau’s shop, he gave her a $200 gift card to buy food and deliver the Christmas she wants for her kids.
“And it’s gonna be great, it’s gonna help me get the meals together and, you know, the struggle with Christmas and stuff like that,” said Bezeau, a mom of a four-month-old and 16-year-old boy.
The funds all come from the unlikely Santa’s thrift shop, Deni’s Dynamite Deals, on Nanaimo’s Seventh Street. This Christmas, it has turned the sales of donated items into gifts of $10,000 in food gift cards for struggling families.
“They’re proud and they work hard, but they can’t keep up with their bills,” said Bezeau.
In his five years running the thrift shop, Bezeau says he’s never seen a need like this year, adding that he’s also never seen so many people’s debit and credit cards get declined when they go to pay.
“Oh, many. If you knew how many times people came in here during the day,” said Bezeau.
The senior has donated over $400,000 in the past five years to help Nanaimo sports teams and music programs. But this year he says he’s focusing on people’s survival.
“It’s been a bad year that way,” said Bezeau.
“I know when I bring things here it’s gonna go to different people and it’s going to be helping people, it’s not going to go to a corporation,” said Nanaimo resident Valencia Laflame.
Nanaimo dad Matt Stephens was so inspired by Bezeau’s giving that he bought coolers full of turkeys and hams to give away outside the thrift store on Monday.
“Let’s get back to old school Nanaimo where we all help each other,” Stephens told people who were lined up for the giveaway.
Bezeau hopes there will be more acts of kindness like that to come, as this one man and his thrift shop, reflect the spirit of giving this Christmas.