Project Santa Claus sees growth |

Project Santa Claus sees growth

Staff Reports

More than 700 children from Douglas County were able to believe in the magic of St. Nick another year thanks to the 28th annual Project Santa Claus.

What was called the most taxing, but successful distribution in the program’s history, Project Santa Claus will see growth in new ways next year.

“I’m going to share some numbers with you,” Kiwanis Club of Carson Valley Project Santa Claus Chair Gary Dove said at a thank you breakfast Jan. 7. “310 and 755. The number of families we served this year, 310. The number of children we served this year, 755. Also, multiple that by two because each child received two angels. That is astounding.”

For the last five years Kiwanis has held the reins of the program, sharing the load with local businesses hosting angel trees both in toy angels as well as hat, mitten and book angels, China Spring Youth Camp setting up a bike repair shop, Douglas County Social Services, Family Support Council as well as many other partners.

Filling a reserved table at the breakfast, China Spring boys were thanked for their service on 110 bikes, repairing them from their used condition to like new for distribution to Valley children.

With the help of Nevada Department of Transportation, Carson Valley Medical Center and Heritage Bank, 202 helmets were also distributed with the bikes, scooters and skateboards gifted this year.

“I am always pleased to see these guys helping with Project Santa,” bike coordinator Peter Engle said. “Not only do they help us with the bikes out at the camp, but they also get to come out to the fairgrounds and get to take the bikes out to the cars and see the faces of the children receiving them. That part of it is always great.”

Engle shared with the more than 60 people at the breakfast that since 2004 Project Santa Claus has given out more than 2,000 bikes.

Help from new partners social services and Salvation Army allowed Project Santa to reach qualifying families in a way that the program never had in previous years.

“The Salvation Army opened their arms to us this year and we are truly thankful and hope to make this a yearly thing,” Dove said. “We didn’t know what to expect from this new partnership. I truly appreciated their communication with social services ensuring all of the qualifying details and family details were in line. We see some great things coming with this partnership.”

Salvation Army donated their time and vehicle to Project Santa for a Fill the Truck day outside of the Grant Avenue Walmart collecting toys purchased by patrons.

In that single afternoon 270 toys were collected and donated to the program as well as all of the proceeds from the Red Kettles, which Kiwanis donated back to Salvation Army.

“Thank you for the opportunity to work with you and as always it was great to work with social services,” Lt. Mark Cyr of Salvation Army said. “Because of this we were able to help 388 kids who were dropped by their other agency in a very short notice situation. I am so glad we were able to take care of them and we are never going to let that happen again.”

Carson Valley Sertoma were also additions to the Project Santa Claus scene this year.

More than 1,500 hours from 136 different individuals contributed to the collection, sorting, wrapping of gifts at the Douglas County Fairgrounds, Project Santa headquarters, and then distributing of gifts from the Carson Valley Community Food Closet.

“To watch what happens at the fairgrounds is nothing short of a miracle,” Sertoman Don Stockman said. “Watching all of those people working behind the scenes and all of the moving parts that are coordinated is just wonderful.”

The inclusion of social services allowed Project Santa Claus a way to communicate with the receiving families in a different way than previous years.

Manager of Social Services Karen Beckerbauer attributed the project’s success to the involvement of the community.

“The one that Gary talked about at the beginning represents the community that pulled this off,” she said. “It was not one group, it was not one Project Santa, it was one community and that is just incredible.”

Raley’s Grocery continued to be a staple part of Project Santa again thanks to manager Mike Mazza and assistant team leader Leona Justinich collecting and distributing the largest number of angels that included hats, mittens, books and toys, once again.

The store’s angel tree extends longer than most employee Justinich said.

“Every year this gets better and better,” she said. “Everyone else’s angels come to me when they have shut down. We always have very few angels left over. We appreciate this community and their continued support.”

Family Support Council’s Steve Decker created the Google Voicemail attached to the Project Santa hotline as well as the brochure that depicted the new partnerships from this year.

The Active 20/30 Club also adopted and shopped for more than 50 angels. The Right of Passage girls were also a helping hand this year Dove said.

For FSC board member Karen Lowry, Project Santa relives memories of when Christmas was a question mark for her family while she was little.

The outpouring of support for families who experience the same uncertainty of a Santa visit, Lowry said is what makes the program special.

“Santa always finds a way,” she said. “That is exactly what you all are doing. Proving that Santa will find a way, no matter what.”