Contributed by Mari Jo Parks, Chief Elf Organizer
2015 was our 19th year bringing Christmas to families in our community. Over 3,300 children from 1,104 families received at least 2 items from their wish list, personal needs items, winter wear when requested (and we had it), stocking stuffers and a new book to open on Christmas. Families were referred by agencies that work with families in need, community programs, churches and schools, as well as friends and neighbors.
We had more people who sponsored a child or family, buying gifts to specifically fill a child’s wish list. We so often hear from these santas telling us about their quest to find that requested unique gift and how much fun it is to find it and know that it went to that child.
Eight elementary schools took on the task of hosting Santa Trees. Watching the children and their parents deliver the mountains of toys was so heartwarming. The children just beamed with pride as they shared their classmates’ donations. Classrooms and school clubs also sponsored children and made wishes come true.
Alaska Family Services continues to be our parent organization. Our local radio stations and newspapers promoted us from October through Christmas bringing awareness to the community. Businesses, organizations, church groups, individuals and neighbors gave donations of money, toys or winter wear, once again helping us bring Christmas to families who struggle making ends meet.
We live in a very generous community, working together to make miracles happen.
One Mom wrote:
“I just wanted to thank you so very much for the help you have given our family. I about cried on the way home knowing their little smiling faces are going to be so happy. It's a parent’s dream come true and a precious feeling, and I have only your program to thank for that! Thank you ever so very much!”
Every day at the workshop is golden (and a whole lot of crazy fun), but here are a few moments the really stood out for me. Mrs. Claus went to prison for Special Santa!!! The Pt. Mackenzie and Goose Creek Correction Center have been making toys for the children of the valley for years, and here are their new creations. Thanks to all of the men using their time to bring delight to children, and to Mrs. Claus for letting them know that their hard work was appreciated.
Toys for Tots had seven pallets of stuffed animals for us in Anchorage, but we had no way to get them. Then with two phone calls, the impossible happened and Span Alaska Transportation Company figured out a way to get them to us. They had to go on the military base which is no small feat these days, but they worked it out. What a great gift for so many of our children.
We have so many wonderful children who save their allowance or go with their parents to select special gifts for other children. One little girl about age 8 came with her grandparents and asked what we needed on a busy Saturday. Off the top of my head, I said hair ribbons and ties. She went shopping with her own money and bought the best hair items we had gotten this year. I could not hug her enough for her generous act. She beamed and I cried! Grandma and Grandpa were so very proud. Another golden moment!
Every year we have so many requests for bikes and we would wish we had them because it issuch a great activity for children, but they are out of our price range. This year, some very special elves made it their mission to collect bikes in late August. The response was amazing, collecting over 50 bikes. The parents were so surprised and grateful when their child’s wish was granted. For many of the older children, the bikes would be their only mode of transportation.
Although we have been pretty quiet in 2016 so far, we have not been idle! There have been donations rolling in steadily over the first half of the year, which has helped set us up for our busy second half that is just about to get underway! A big thank you to the Palmer Lions Club, Enterprise Car Rentals, Local Chapters of Beta Sigma Phi, Our Quilt Lady, private donations and the Palmer Backcountry Bike and Ski. We are off to a great start for 2016!
What's on the horizon? Well let me bullet point it for you:
• August - First Meeting of 2016 Season
• September - Bike Drive
• October - Halloween Hollow
• November - Moving into the Workshop and Shopping
• December - More Shopping and Wish List Filling
And of course throughout it all, there is fundraising, buying, promotion, office work and all the other things that support and get the word out about this wonderful program.
It is amazing how much work can be involved with the simple task of getting presents to children in need, but don't think we're complaining! The many hands and hearts that go into making this program work, along with all the wonderful moments of gratitude, surprise and wonder from our recipients really does make it all worthwhile - it sounds cheesy but it's true! Come and see what I'm talking about, participate with one or more of these next events and you will see not only what a difference you can make, but what a great time it is making it!