While Santa Claus was missing his signature red suit and white beard for 100 students at Wakefield Elementary School and their families on Friday afternoon, his giving spirit was apparent as he delivered presents and a Christmas dinner during the seventh annual Letters to Santa Charity distribution event.
The reason behind the different appearance was because Santa Claus in this situation was not actually Old St. Nicholas, but Modesto firefighter and Letters to Santa Charity president Justin Crone, whose organization raised $81,000 in order to gift 708 kids and 305 families with clothes, toys and a holiday dinner this year.
Crone said that the charity effort has grown exponentially since he took it on seven years ago. In its first year, he coordinated a dinner that raised $7,600 to guarantee 60 to 80 kids a coat, shoes and a toy. This year, Crone hosted a golf tournament and dinner in order to give 708 students a shirt, pants, underclothes, socks, shoes, warm jacket and a toy. Their families also received a full holiday meal.
“Each year we’ve just gotten bigger,” said Crone. “This year has just gotten completely out of hand, which is great.”
Once a student is selected by school staff for Letters to Santa, Crone said that his organization looks to see if the chosen household has any other children, as those kids receive gifts as well. Over the course of two major shopping days, the wishes of each child is specifically answered by roughly 70 volunteer shoppers.
Crone said that Letters to Santa went above and beyond for one Wakefield Elementary family in particular that was recently discovered to be homeless and living out of their car this year. On Friday, Crone gave the family gift cards to FoodMaxx, Red Robin and Sizzler, as well as a three-night stay at a local hotel.
“We just want to give them some normalcy for the holidays,” said Crone.
In addition to distributing gifts to children at Wakefield Elementary, Crone brought gifts and holiday meals to families in Ceres, Modesto, Salida and other Turlock schools, including nine students at Medeiros Elementary School, 80 students at Crowell Elementary School and 50 students Dennis Earl Elementary School.
“I’m just overwhelmed,” said Erin Shubin, Dennis Earl parent of Tatiana Shubin (7) and Seeley Shubin (3). “We are very grateful.”
Crone said that while a majority of Letters to Santa is the work of him and his family, it would not be possible without community volunteers and sponsors, which include Central Valley Pump Inc., Turlock Associated Police Officers, Modesto City Firefighters Association 1289, Central Valley Automotive, Machado and Sons Construction, Geiger’s Jewelers, Huff Construction and GDI Insurance.
For more information about the annual event, visit letterstosantacharity.com.