Although Turlock resident and Letters to Santa Charity president Justin Crone looks nothing like Santa Claus, he and Jolly Old Saint Nicholas have at least one thing in common: their desire to keep the magic of Christmas alive by making sure every child has a present to open on Christmas Day.
Earlier this month, Letters to Santa raised nearly $132,000 during the charity’s eighth annual golf tournament and dinner — enough to bring Christmas to over 1,000 children in Stanislaus County.
“We’re not just bringing them Christmas, we’re bringing them normalcy,” said Crone.
Crone said that the charity effort has grown exponentially since he took it on eight years ago from the Modesto Fire Department, where he works. In its first year, he coordinated a dinner that raised $7,600 to gift between 60 and 80 kids a coat, shoes and a toy. This year, Crone hosted a golf tournament and dinner which brought in a field full of golfers — over 140 of them — and 320 diners to help the charity raise about $132,000 to provide about 1,100 children in Stanislaus County with a shirt, pants, underclothes, socks, shoes, warm jacket and a toy. Their families also receive a full turkey dinner.
“None of this is possible without our supporters who come to the events and participate,” said Crone.
Children are selected for Letters to Santa by school staff, and Crone said that his organization looks to see if the chosen household has any other children under 16 years old, as those kids receive gifts as well. Over the course of two major shopping days, the wishes of every child are answered by roughly 100 volunteer shoppers. During the first shopping day at Wal-Mart in Modesto last weekend, Crone said volunteers gathered presents for a little over 550 kids.
“If we’re not doing this as an organization, who is going to do it?” asked Crone. “It would break my heart if Letters to Santa wasn’t around next year and so many kids were going to go without Christmas. That’s what drives me every year.”
Letters to Santa will be distributing presents before Christmas break at nine schools through Stanislaus County, including four Turlock schools: Wakefield Elementary School, Crowell Elementary School, Julien Elementary School and Dennis Earl Elementary School.
For more information on Letters to Santa, visit letterstosantacharity.com.