The Dear Santa Society is again spreading holiday cheer among Bowling Green area families.
The nonprofit charity is committed to helping Bowling Green City Schools families with children of any age by raising money and purchasing food, clothing, personal hygiene items and toys in time for Christmas.
Each family gets toys for the children, clothes, a fruit basket, a ham and a large box of toiletries.
There is a fundraiser Monday at Juniper Brewing downtown where 15% of all sales will go to Dear Santa.
Earlier this month, a successful fundraiser was held at Beckett’s, said Dear Santa Co-Chair Kisha Nichols.
“We’re hoping to be wrapping up the fundraising part soon because we’ve already started accepting families and people are starting to shop next week,” she said.
Families in need who have children in Bowling Green schools, or someone who knows a family, are asked to email Dear Santa at [email protected] or mail a letter to P.O. Box 513, Bowling Green, OH 43402
In the letter, they are asked to briefly describe the circumstances and include the children’s names, sizes, ages, wish list, parents’ names, address and phone number where society members can reach the family to verify information.
From Wednesday to Thursday, 10 more requests were received, and Nichols said she expects to receive letters up to the last minute.
The deadline to submit requests is Nov. 26.
Last year, 39 families and 132 children from birth to age 18 were helped.
In the last 14 years, Dear Santa has collected $277,829 which has helped provide Christmas for 419 families and a total of 1,148 children.
The letters will be reviewed with priority going to families we haven’t been helped before or families that have not been helped recently, Nichols said.
“That’s not to say that if we helped you before or we helped you recently, that we won’t help you, but you’re going to wait longer to hear because we need to make the priority those new families who have a new struggle, who are reaching out for help,” she said.
For years, Jim and Dee Szalejko coordinated the program. They moved away earlier this year.
Nichols said she always worried about the money and fundraising — and Co-Chair Jennifer Ostrowski keeps telling her they are fine.
“I think, just like the challenge that everyone faces, everything costs a little bit more. That definitely is an impact when we help families,” Ostrowski said.
To fund the program, they need between $30,000 and $35,000; $20,000 is needed for the gifts only.
The society also has helped with specific requests, such as rent and utilities.
The ham for the last several years has been donated by Nick Snyder’s youth hockey team and team members organize all of the hygiene items.
Gospel House gave a financial donation and members are shopping and wrapping gifts.
The BGHS FFA chapter again will donate fruit baskets.
High school DECA students are holding a Harvest for Hunger and are accepting monetary donations, in addition to food and hygiene items. The choir will also hold a collection at the holiday concert.
Dear Santa is again partnering with Brown Bag Food Project, which will help with wrapping and items that include everything needed for a holiday meal.
Distribution will be Dec. 17 with wrapping on Dec. 14. Volunteers are needed for both events and can offer their services through the Dear Santa email or Facebook page.
The society was started in Philadelphia in 1989; at that time Jim Szalejko helped eight families with $1,000. He brought a chapter to Bowling Green 15 years ago.
Ostrowski said she has continued to volunteer because there is a need.
“It’s the children we work with, it’s the children we teach and it’s a way to serve the community,” she said.
Ostrowski is an intervention specialist and Nichols teaches second grade, both at Kenwood Elementary.
“We see these kids every day, we see what it looks like for a child who comes back after Christmas break and hasn’t had a great of a Christmas as everyone else, and I don’t want to see that for kids,” Nichols said.
A service group or group of friends who would like to adopt a Dear Santa family should contact Nichols for information at [email protected].
The society is accepting donations of personal hygiene products (shampoo, toothbrushes, toothpaste, deodorant, body wash, feminine hygiene, soap, shaving items), paper products (toilet paper, paper towels, facial tissues) and laundry detergent.
Items may be dropped off at Kenwood Elementary in care of Kisha Nichols by Dec. 9.
Donations are tax deductible. Checks may be payable to the Dear Santa Society and mailed to P.O. Box 513, Bowling Green, OH 43402; or through Venmo @Dear-Santa.