For a while now, my wife, Melissa, and I have been involved with an organization called Santa’s Helpers. I have never experienced such a driven group of people who aim to brighten the world for families each year. Many people take Christmas and what it means to receive gifts for granted. For families who struggle to get by on a daily basis, opening a gift that holds a brand-new pair of socks or a football can mean everything.
Santa’s Helpers strives to give back to people and help those who are less fortunate. Their mission started 16 years ago when a group of St. Brendan alumni began looking for ways to help families in need. “One of the great things about going into Catholic school is that a social responsibility to give back to people is drilled into you,” says Angie D. Medina, director of culture and patient experience at one of the largest hospitals in town and one of the organizers of Santa’s Helpers. “When you go to college, that feeling diminishes, but we fought it, because we still wanted to help people.”
Once they had their mission in sight, the alumni turned to the church to see how they could reach out to the families they wanted to help. “We told them that we’d like to help children and families who were less fortunate and asked if there was anything that we could do. The church then gave us the contact information of two families, and we started working right away,” Angie explains. So the group of volunteers, after learning what they could about these families, began visiting their homes. However, they could see a small drawback.
“What started happening was that we were outnumbering the people in the family, and it felt like we were invading their homes,” Angie says. “We had more help than those who needed help. We would come with clothes and toys, and things would become pretty cramped. We wanted to start small, which we did, but we seemed to be growing faster than we could keep up with.” As a greater number of people began volunteering and there were more and more families to help, “It became more of a caravan, going from house to house with a large group of people,” Angie describes.
Although they were helping people, providing personalized gifts to brighten the spirits of these families, there was one thing they couldn’t shake. “It still felt like these families were almost embarrassed for us to walk into their homes. That’s when we decided to rent a spot in a park and pay for everything that has to do with a picnic — park rental, music, entertainment, and Santa visits. We thought that if these families came to us instead of us going from house to house, we’d make it a much more enjoyable time for everyone.”
One aspect of Santa’s Helpers that might be odd to a lot of people is that it isn’t a nonprofit. “It’s something I get asked all the time,” Angie says. “If it was a nonprofit, the number of donations would be so much bigger and would require a board; it would become a whole other element. Santa’s Helpers’ intent is to help those who aren’t being helped by other organizations.” The difference is that Santa’s Helpers doesn’t revolve around generic gifts. All their efforts are poured into giving the family something that they need or specifically ask for. As Angie explains, “This is a very personal experience for them. We don’t want to focus on giving girls ‘girl toys’ or boys ‘boy toys.’ When I was growing up, I wanted to pick out the gifts I would receive from Santa. These children and their parents deserve the same amount of care and attention with each of their gifts.”
I have been in this program for a few years now, and the experience has genuinely affected me. Melissa first introduced me to Santa’s Helpers and their goal. I was more than willing to do my fair share to help these people, but experiencing it was on a whole other level. When you see the difference you’re making for the families involved, it’s more than moving. All I had to do was go to their event once, and I completely understood how important and amazing Santa’s Helpers truly is.
I’ve watched Santa’s Helpers grow throughout the few years I’ve been with them. It’s still a fairly small organization, but there are always many individuals who are there to help in any way possible. They’re a very tight knit community. Melissa and I have had both jobs within the program; sometimes, we help rebuild people’s lives, and other times, we do our best to bring the Christmas experience to children in need. It all goes back to the main focus of this program — to make Christmas special for each family by personalizing the individual gifts.
A few years ago, we sponsored a family who had recently arrived from Venezuela. The mother and father were attorneys from that country, and the father had been a professor of law at some point in his life. They hadn’t been here very long but had come to America to try and make a better life for themselves and their family. The father was driving Uber and Lyft, which was not enough to make ends meet but was barely sufficient to make it to the next day.
Given my work and experience as a teacher, to meet someone in a situation where they’ve had all the education in the world and to see that they are no different than me shook me to my core. This man and woman were bright — brighter than me. By talking with each other, we bonded over common ground, both professionally and through our backgrounds. I remember I got into the car with Melissa and asked her, “What do you think tomorrow would be like if we were suddenly in France?” No one would care if I was walking around with a Bar card in my pocket. No one would care that I went to an American college or that I have an American degree. This realization put the family’s struggle into perspective.
The day arrived when we gave the Venezuelan family their gifts, including plenty of toys for their kids and gasoline gift cards for the father. We sat down with their family and handed the gifts out to each of them. Words can’t really express how touching the exchange was. When you see a kid’s face light up as you hand them a gift and their parents are in tears because their son or daughter got a soccer ball or brand-new shoes, it leaves you in tears — or you’re doing a lot of work to hold them back. It’s a really powerful experience.
There are few things that bring me as much joy as when I’m helping these families each year. Santa’s Helpers is an exceptional organization, and I want to do as much as I can for them, even when it’s not the holidays. Going forward, Izquierdo Law Firm will pledge to make donations to Santa’s Helpers throughout the year. Creating these special moments for these families is important, and I want to do anything that I can to help. I recognize how blessed I am to do what I do, and if I can share some of that success and help others in our community then, count me in!
If you’re interested in contributing to Santa’s Helpers and making a difference in local lives, there are a few things you can do. Go to the following PayPal link to make a money donation. Or if you want to send a gift card instead, you can coordinate with our office, and we’ll get them over to Angie. If you’d like to be more personally involved and sponsor a family, you can get in touch with us and we’ll connect you with Angie at Santa’s Helpers, who will take you through the next steps in getting to know a family and figuring out what it takes to bring Christmas to them this year.