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Project Santa Claus: R-C Featured Organization of the Month makes sure every child has a gift

by Nancy Hamlett

To the many volunteers who make up Project Santa Claus, there is no time frame for giving or contributing to our community. However, the spirit of Christmas reminds us all that there are those less fortunate and that all of us can make a difference.

Marilyn Malkmus is the director of Project Santa Claus, the organization honored by The Record-Courier for the month of December. There are many other committees chairs and organizers, but according to Malkmus, the volunteers are for the most part reluctant to accept any recognition.

“I have a huge batch of volunteers who don’t want any publicity,” said Malkmus. “They won’t take titles, but they’ll do anything that is needed. To me, that is pretty remarkable. So I want people to know what they do, even if they won’t know their names.”

According to Rosemarie Middendorf, publicist for Project Santa Claus, the program grew out of a similar program run by the county’s Department of Indigent Services, administered by Karen Hamperle. Then when the Carson Valley Community Food Closet opened in 1988, the late Carol Judd, a long-time community supporter and director of the Food Closet, and Hamperle joined forces. Project Santa Claus formed from that union.

According to Malkmus, who has served as director since 1992, Judd’s goal was to make sure that no child in Douglas County had Christmas without a present.

“The first year Carol distributed four Angel Trees in the Valley, and each year the program has grown,” said Malkmus. “Last year we provided Christmas for over 800 Douglas County children, and this year we have 12 Angel Trees. As our population increases, so does the need.”

Although the program has grown, Malkmus said that the principle has remained the same. Families needing assistance, either on a regular basis, or perhaps just to see them through the holiday season, can apply.

Once qualified, the children, through age 15, fill out two angels, one for each of their Christmas wish ideas. Malkmus said that even though the children are encouraged to pick out one toy and one piece of clothing, they could choose two of either item.

Christmas trees are distributed to stores throughout Douglas County the week before Thanksgiving and are decorated with the angels.

The next step depends upon the generosity of Douglas County residents. They can choose an angel (or several), purchase the gifts, wrap the present with the angel on the outside, and return it to the Angel Tree. The volunteers from Project Santa Claus then have the task of sifting and sorting all of the gifts in time for Christmas.

“In addition to individuals, we have organizations and churches that adopt the children,” said Malkmus. “People are intuitively generous. They sometimes just don’t know what to do. Project Santa Claus provides a way to make a difference.”

Over the years, Project Santa Claus has grown in scope until it now includes warm winter clothing and wheeled vehicles in addition to gifts and food.

“All year long the Kiwanis Club collects used bikes, tricycles, scooters and wagons,” said Malkmus. “The boys at China Spring Youth Camp and Rite of Passage overhaul and refurbish the bikes for Project Santa Claus.”

Added to the pedal power are 100 Big Wheels, donated every year by a businessperson.

“Volunteers show up at the fairgrounds every year with their screwdrivers and tools in hand, ready to assemble those Big Wheels,” said Malkmus. “One volunteer even devised a brace to hold them while putting them together. Last year, it only took one day to assemble all 100 Big Wheels.” She laughed. “I don’t see how they can break that record.”

Warm winter clothing is always appreciated at Christmas, and four years ago Project Santa Claus included a clothing drive in its program. This year there are five donation centers in the Valley for men, women, children and young children’s clothing, the Sunridge model home, the Winhaven sales office, Raley’s Food and Drug Center, R&T Cleaners and Carson Valley Medical Center.

Food is collected year-round, but several organizations make a big push before Christmas.

“Boy Scouts, mail carriers, they all help us,” said Malkmus. “And Raley’s has been a blessing to us. They keep a bin up all year long for food donations.”

Right before Christmas, food, clothing, bikes and presents are organized by family at the fairgrounds by the volunteers. Then, on the big day, the families are invited to gather their gifts so that they may have a special Christmas.

“It’s hard to be a receiver, and many of our families are uncomfortable asking for help, ” said Malkmus. “But Project Santa Claus is more like sharing with your community instead of giving. There are always things you can do to help the less fortunate. Even if you are a receiver, you can contribute back, with time, with your too small clothes, with love.”

There is still a brief period of time to purchase gifts for children on the Angel Tree as Malkmus said that the last day would be today, Dec. 16.

Or if you would like to help assemble, sort and organize Christmas for Douglas County residents, you can join other Project Santa Claus volunteers at the fairgrounds pavilion.

“A great group of people will be there from 9 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. today through Saturday, Dec. 19,” said Malkmus.

Even though Project Santa Claus is not a year-round organization, Malkmus said that the spirit of giving lasts all year long in Douglas County.

“I am so thankful to this county, which goes the extra step to support Project Santa Claus,” said Malkmus. “Without everyone contributing they way they do, we wouldn’t be able to provide Christmas for all of the children and families that need that little bit of help.”

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