Community donations to Santa Fund hit record

Happy 50th anniversary. You sure know how to throw a jubilee celebration. Not with streamers or a four-tier cake, but rather with an outstanding display of empathy, generosity and a deep sense of community. You made our jubilee year a record-breaking year for the children of Greater Nashua.

It was five decades ago, that then-Telegraph publisher, the late Charlie Weaver, started the Santa Fund to give area needy children a happy holiday. The project may carry our newspaper’s name, but from day one and every day since, it’s been your Santa Fund – our readers, our community.

This season, 10 days before Christmas, when so many in our community were tapped out and shopped out with holiday demands, we asked for a miracle. We had only $45,211 in our coffers. Not only was that $15,000 less than the previous year, but because of the hurting economy, the numbers of children who needed Christmas help had risen, while donations had gone down. Some of those registering for Santa Fund donations had been contributors in the past.

But within two weeks, after asking for your help, our fund reached the nearly $119,000 mark, $15,000 morwe than last year’s total.

No kidding, you raised $74,000 in 14 days, and all of it goes directly to the children and teens in the community. But even more amazing is that number only represents cash donations. You also donated tens of thousands of dollars in new toys and clothes as well as gift cards – which are so important in making the holiday special for tweens and teens who want more than anything to fit in with their friends by being able to go to a movie, wear a new sweatshirt or buy a hamburger or shop at the mall.

Each of the 50 years of the Santa Fund’s existence, the people of the Nashua area have dug deep to donate money, new toys and clothes to the children in this area – who like all children, like your children – dreamed of a Christmas, but wouldn’t have had one if not for you.

That first Santa Fund year, about $1,400 was raised.

This year, more than 80 times that amount was raised. Of course, times have changed and instead of helping hundreds of families, this year, 1,150 families with 3,500 children registered and qualified for help from the Santa Fund. A great many of those families had never needed or asked for help before.

The Salvation Army and Nashua Pastoral Care Center assist The Telegraph in the distribution of these donations. And while we received many generous contributions from individuals, families and businesses of hundreds and thousands of dollars, we also received hundreds of donations in smaller increments that added up and up and up.

One person donated 39 pairs of hand-knitted mittens, which was given with the same spirit as an area nursing home, which donated $500.

This year, Santa Fund organizers partnered with Alec’s Shoes in an effort to keep a local focus on our work, and as a result, 100 children and teens had much-needed beautiful, sturdy and brand-new shoes and boots Christmas day.

It was a year for practical presents. Because of the tough economy, Santa letters included hundreds of requests for warm winter coats, blankets and yes, even new underwear.

Maryse Wirbal, CEO of Nashua Pastoral Care, said this holiday season, “was the most challenging we have seen in years” because some businesses who were negatively affected by the economy, weren’t able to continue the support. They’d given in years past and fewer people stepped up initially to “adopt” families or even had the time to volunteer and shop for families with Santa Fund money.

But in the end, it all worked out and then some.

You may have not been able to see the happiness in the eyes of those whom you helped, or hear their sobs of joy and gratitude. But we heard and saw for you, and it was everything you would hope it would be.

What can we say? You are the best. And because of you, for the past 50 years, Santa Claus hasn’t missed a kid in town.

Our wish for you in 2012 is that the generosity you have shown this year, comes back to you 50-fold.

Stacy Milbouer can be reached at stacym34@gmail.com.