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Project Santa bids farewell to longtime volunteers

John and Sue Carnes and Gary Dove at Thursday's Project Santa Claus Breakfast at the Carson Valley Inn in Minden.
Kurt Hildebrand

It was a morning for tearful goodbyes.

On Thursday, Project Santa Claus Chairman Gary Dove said he was turning over the reins of the sleigh that provided more than 2,800 gifts to 207 families in time for Christmas 2019.

The annual breakfast honored volunteers and service clubs that participate in the event every year.

For nearly a third of a century, Project Santa Claus has been the key charity providing bicycles, books, presents to 8,557 families in need.

In doing so, it has established a tradition of volunteerism across generations who’ve gone to the Fairgrounds before Christmas to sort and wrap gifts.

“Well Debbie I did it,” Dove said turning the event over to new chairman Pat Garrahan.

Dove was there when Marilyn Malkmus turned the sleigh reins over to Kiwanis and Minden-Tahoe Rotary in 2011 after 17 years.

So was Elf John and Sue Carne, who were honored on Thursday for their contributions over the years.

“There are great people replacing us as we move on,” Carne said. “This has been an incredibly rewarding experience. Every Christmas morning we wake up and we enjoy our family’s experience. But we also are very much aware that partly because of our effort there are several hundred children who are having a better morning that same day because of something we had a part of.”

He said that was something the people who take over should remember on Christmas mornings.

“That you are part of a magical program that contributes to the happiness of hundreds of people every year.”

For years China Spring Youth Camp students have prepared donated bicycles for children benefitting from Project Santa Claus.

“When I found out we were giving the bikes out to the kids for Christmas, that made me feel like a good person,” said the student who spoke for the group. “When we first got the bikes, I never thought we would get through them. All of the bikes needed something fixed, and we all worked very hard to get the bikes ready for Christmas.”

The student said he refurbished 30-40 bicycles himself. The Bike Crew put in around 200 hours in 2019.

Volunteer Deanna Abbott has roughly 25 years volunteering with Project Santa Claus.

“In 2000, I suggested we give books out to every child, and when you suggest something you become in charge of it,” she said. “It’s been a joy to work with Project Santa Claus and get the books out to the children.”

Troy Drake and his parents, Suzanne and Scott, were honored at the breakfast for the 29-year-old’s contribution to the effort.

Carson Valley Accounting’s Drew Aguilar was recognized for the firm’s contributions.

“Drew, I can’t list all the boards you’re on because I don’t have time,” Dove joked.

“I’m trying to be on half the boards Brenda (Robertson) is on,” Aguilar replied. “It’s a great community, and we have a lot of fun.”

Garrahan said he and his wife moved here a year and a half ago.

“Words really can’t express the community we moved into,” the Gardnerville resident said. “It seems like every organization, every service club, is always stepping up to the plate to help everybody in this community.”

A member of Rotary, Garrahan’s wife Kathryn is in Sertoma, and he has participated in Toys for Tots in the past.

“The Christmas toy distribution is very near and dear to my heart,” he said. “I look forward to carrying on the work of this organization with the help of everyone in this room.”