Project Santa Claus elves get ready for Christmas distribution |

Project Santa Claus elves get ready for Christmas distribution

by Jo Rafferty

A truck backed into the dock of the pavilion at the Douglas County Fairgrounds on Friday to unload about 40 bikes and trikes, adding to the 100-plus already there.

Sandy Deyo, in charge of bicycles for Project Santa Claus, said he expects close to 200 bicycle donations this year, to be distributed to Douglas County families a few days before Christmas.

“When they sign up for Project Santa Claus they tell whether or not they want a bike,” said Deyo. “Most of the time we don’t have enough, but we just go down through the list.”

Bikes come from the Gardnerville/Minden Kiwanis Club, business and private donations. The used bicycles donated to Kiwanis are repaired by boys and girls from China Spring Youth Camp and Aurora Pines Girls Facility.

“Kiwanis goes and gets the bikes out at China Spring,” said Deyo. “We also get some new bikes unassembled. We assemble them here.”

Aurora Pines and Rite of Passage students will assist in handing out bikes later this week.

While Deyo and his crew, Dan Seaton, George Heeter and Barry Starkey, handle the bikes, many more volunteers busily do the wrapping and organizing of gifts into piles for individual families. There are a total of about 200 volunteers involved in Project Santa Claus.

In 2004, 647 children from 288 Douglas County families were able to receive Christmas presents due to the generosity of the community, according to Marilyn Malkmus, Project Santa Claus program director.

This year, 291 families and 672 children are on Project Santa Claus’ Christmas list. Project Santa Claus is in its 17th year.

Toys, books, mittens and hats are collected on Angel Trees placed at locations around Carson Valley. Members of the community pick an “angel” off the trees that lists what a child wants for Christmas. The Angel Tree program was over Friday and J.R. Baird was in charge of picking up the last of the gifts.

More toys and other items are privately donated. Shipments were being delivered throughout last week and the weekend. The gifts are wrapped and tagged and placed in piles for children of families who prequalify through the Carson Valley Community Food Closet, the Family Support Council of Douglas County, Douglas County and Washoe Tribal Social Services departments and children who are in the Court Appointed Special Advocate program.

On Friday, students from the leadership class at Pau-Wa-Lu Middle School, from Sierra Lutheran School, members of the Carson Valley Methodist Church and several Girl Scouts and individuals came to help unload, sort, wrap and organize the gifts.

“I’m so excited. I want to do this every year,” said Kristi Antunovich, leader of Girl Scout troop No. 335.

Mena Dedmon, Pau-Wa-Lu leadership class instructor, said when her class arrived that morning the entire floor, now covered with piles of wrapped gifts, had been empty. Twenty-three students from her class were wrapping toys and books. Two more, Mary Lombino and Travis Keene, are middle school graduates who had been in Dedmon’s class last year.

“When we did it last year, we just enjoyed the whole purpose of it,” said Mary. “We loved leadership, so we wanted to do it again.”

Meghan Elliott and Nancy Duarte, ninth graders, organized the Project Santa Claus work day as their project for leadership. Lindsey Scyphers and Araceli Ceballos, both in eighth grade, collected toys and food for their project. The toys were donated to Project Santa Claus and the food would go to the Carson Valley Community Food Closet.

“They collected six boxes of toys,” said Dedmon. “It was so cool.”

Dedmon said this is the third year her class has participated.

At the other end of the pavilion, Liz Starkey was overseeing racks and tables stuffed with clothing collected during the Used Winter Clothing Drive. Warm clothing will be available for all ages, infants through seniors in prequalified families, on Project Santa Claus distribution day.

“When families come in to pick up toys, they’re directed over to our area if they want to pick out clothing for their families,” said Starkey. “It’s like a little store. We are there to help them look for things and pick out things.”

One Project Santa Claus helper is Duke Sanders, 17, who first began volunteering for the program as a Cub Scout seven years ago.

“Duke is a great help,” said Malkmus, showing a picture of Sanders as a Cub Scout in a photo album. “He’s been here since he was a Cub Scout. “He’s worked his way up to chief elf.”

Sanders is homeschooled and also taking classes at Western Nevada Community College. He has participated in running, cycling and swimming events and now is competing in triathalons. In spite of his busy schedule, he continues to volunteer for Project Santa Claus every year.

“I just loving doing it,” said Sanders. “When you can see the whole floor covered with piles of presents – it’s just amazing what the community does.”

n Jo Rafferty can be reached at or 782-5121, ext. 210.