Michele McDonald for The Boston Globe
The annual Christmas party that raises tens of thousands of dollars for Salem children is in doubt after Victoria Station, the well-known Pickering Wharf restaurant that hosted the event for the last 24 years, abruptly closed.
The Salem Children’s Charity fund-raiser was set for Tuesday, Dec. 12, but the restaurant was ordered to shut down, event organizers said.
“We got blindsided,” said Brendan Walsh, a board member of the nonprofit. “We were all set to go for Tuesday . . . Then all of a sudden the place is closed.”
Salem Police Capt. Conrad Prosniewski, said the department was notified at 5 a.m. Wednesday, that the Essex County sheriff’s department was going to change the locks at Victoria Station.
“Of course, now we’re all scrambling because nobody knew,” said Prosniewski, a board member of the charity.
The board hopes to find another venue to host the event by noon on Thursday.
Attempts to reach representatives of Victoria Station and Pickering Wharf were unsuccessful Wednesday night.
Walsh said he has heard from many residents who were upset about the restaurant’s closing and worried about the fund-raiser, which costs $20 and features a live auction and a silent auction.
“They look forward to it, it’s become kind of a Salem tradition and they know where the money goes,” he said.
Victoria Station hosted the event for free, and employees volunteered their time. Vendors donated all the food.
That made it possible for the Salem Children’s Charity to keep most of the money raised. Last year’s party raised $38,000, Walsh said.
“Every dime that we spend with a caterer is a dime that a kid doesn’t get,” Walsh said.
Finding a new spot, as generous as Victoria Station “ . . . is going to be hard,” he said.
Walsh also said he is concerned for the restaurant employees, some of whom he’s come to know personally over the years.
“Here they are a couple of weeks before Christmas and they’re out of work. I know one of them’s got five kids,” Walsh said.
The charity relied on the party to raise nearly all of its money to help low-income children attending Salem Public Schools. About 47 percent of the 3,772 students enrolled in Salem schools are economically disadvantaged, meaning they qualify for free or reduced lunch, among other public assistance, according to state education data.
Requests for assistance are made to the charity by a teacher or counselor. The charity has helped as many as 1,000 kids and their families each year. The help has included financial assistance after a family death or a fire.
Money is also provided to fund extracurricular activities, and to help families buy groceries, Walsh said.
“We have some desperately poor kids and there may be summer programs that we might be able to help them attend,” said Walsh, who also serves on the Salem School Committee.
“Because we have a party at Christmas time, people think it’s just to raise money for Christmas, but we spend the money year-round,” Walsh said.
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