Project Santa ‘elves’ at work |

Project Santa ‘elves’ at work

by Jo Rafferty

The sparkling snow outside the Douglas County Fairgrounds pavilion building Monday was a mere reflection of the cheeriness inside where about 25 volunteers were doing the work of Santa’s elves.

Inside it was partitioned off into sections for books, stuffed animals, hats and mittens, piles of wrapped gifts, bicycles and used winter clothing. Volunteers were wrapping, unloading, placing items in the correct piles – getting ready for the families who are to arrive Friday.

“We have 261 families, 605 children coming Friday to pick up their presents,” said Marilyn Malkmus, director of Project Santa Claus.

Children who have been chosen due to financial need are the main recipients of gifts through Project Santa Claus, although seniors in need and the parents of the children are invited to pick out clothing and other goods from a room-size area filled with used jackets and sweaters. Financial need is determined by the Douglas County and Washoe Tribal social service departments. Recipients are referred through the Family Support Council of Douglas County, CASA and the Carson Valley Community Food Closet.

Names of each child were placed on seven “angel trees” throughout the area. Other trees were set up inside companies where donations came from the employees, according to Malkmus.

“The families say they are overwhelmed that people who don’t even know them will donate to them,” said Malkmus.

Donations were coming in at a steady pace Monday, the final day they could be accepted since the volunteers had to get them organized. Jeremy Davidson of the Carson Valley Active 20-30 Club arrived with gifts for 30 children.

“We go up to Wal-Mart and buy clothes and a toy for each child we sponsor,” said Davidson. “We spend a minimum of $50 for each child.”

Davidson said then the men hold a “wrapping party.”

Since Project Santa Claus began more than 20 years ago, the objective has been to give Carson Valley children, ages newborn to 15, new gifts. In addition to clothing and a toy, each child receives a stuffed animal, a book, hat and mittens.

“Our kids get only new things,” said Malkmus. “We don’t want our kids to feel like second-class citizens.”

Volunteers return every year, each with their own reasons for doing it, said Malkmus.

“I love this stuff,” said Aleeta Jones, a teacher for 31 years, looking through the books that were waiting to be wrapped.

Another teacher, Deanna Abbott, heads the book department, but was teaching school on Monday, said Jones.

Karen Fitch, 59, has been with the program since it started. She wraps the packages with difficulty since she only has use of one hand.

“We started this when Carol Judd was doing it,” said Fitch.

“The very first time we did it out of the old Verizon building,” said Kelly Jinks, 35, who began volunteering for Project Santa Claus with Fitch when she was 12 or 13.

“Sometimes parents bring the kids, and their eyes get so big,” said Fitch. “We do it because we like to see the faces of the families. It’s just something you have to do.”

Duke Sanders, 18, started volunteering as a Cub Scout when he was 9 or 10, and has been back every year.

“I love doing it,” he said. “Each year I become more and more involved.”

Sandy Deyo, who has been on the crew that puts together and organizes the bikes since 1994, said they had 200 requests for bikes this year. Used bicycles have been refurbished by boys and girls at China Springs and Aurora Pines youth facilities each year. New bicycles are assembled by volunteers.

“We’re probably at about 125 right now,” he said. “We’re anticipating another 50 or 60.”

Liz Starkey, used clothing organizer, was hanging up jackets with her helper, Angie Baker. Starkey is helping out for the seventh year, Baker has been volunteering since 1998.

“We sort five times,” said Starkey. “We put the clothing in Carl (Malkmus’) barn. Then the Sheriff’s Posse moves everything to the fairgrounds for us.”

Project Santa Claus volunteers began setting up at the fairgrounds on Saturday, each day progressing a little further so everything will be ready Friday when the families arrive.

“It’s just amazing to me,” said Malkmus. “Every year my heart just fills. I just can’t help it.”

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