For 66 years Globe Santa, a program of the Boston Globe Foundation, has provided gifts to children in need at holiday time. Please consider giving by phone, mail or online at globesanta.org.
It’s the handwriting.
That’s what I find so affecting about the letters to Globe Santa, a program of the Boston Globe Foundation that provides and distributes holiday toys and books for children who might otherwise go gift-less.
I’m speaking as the new Globe Santa editor. I’m one of a long line of editors and writers over the program’s epic 66-year history who work with a dedicated Globe Santa team, and are privileged to read these letters. They began arriving in September by snail mail, asking for gift assistance and written by parents, grandparents, foster parents, and guardians in the Boston area who have little money or have fallen on hard times for any of a number of different reasons.
Jobs lost due to COVID. A parent who died. A sick child, a father in prison, a refugee family not yet established. A mother of an 8-year-old with end-stage cancer who can barely pay her bills and wants her son to have “as ‘normal’ a Christmas as possible because it may be the last Christmas I have with my family.”
A father who writes: “This request is to allow my daughter to enjoy the spirit of Christmas amidst my financial struggle.”
The letters are all hand-written — there were an astounding 17,508 of them last year and every single one of them gets read. They’re written on a single lined page on a form provided by the State’s Department of Transitional Assistance, which provide benefits to the families, or another approved agency or faith-based organization.
“Tell us your story,” the form says.
People have been telling me their stories for more than three decades during my career as a reporter. But nothing prepared me for actually seeing these stories, these compelling micro-histories that have been carefully crafted or hurriedly scrawled in tidy cursive or messy print, replete with underlined phrases, emphatic statements, parentheses — whatever it takes for their story to be heard. To be sure their children aren’t overlooked.
“I really have no money (NONE) to spare and I do not want my son to suffer (I try so hard),” wrote a Boston single mother with a 10-year-old son and an 18-year-old daughter who can’t attend college because she received no financial aid. “We don’t need much,” the mother added.
They write from apartments, houses, shelters, the bedsides of ill loved ones. In 2020 they came from 190 Greater Boston towns and cities, and despite the challenges of the pandemic, last year was unsurpassed in donations. Some 9,000 donors contributed nearly $1.7 million to buy toys, books, and games for more than 30,000 children.
The stories they tell are a reflection what we see in today’s headlines.
“I just finished radiation for throat cancer and had my voice box removed. My medicine is not covered by my insurance.”
“I’ve been out of work since March 2020 [due to COVID] and I decided to stay home to do virtual classes with my oldest.”
“I am the maternal grandmother to both of these girls. Sadly, my daughter has an IV drug habit and was unable to care for these children.”
Globe Santa is a Greater Boston institution with a simple slogan: “Deliver Joy.” It’s not a flashy charity or social media operation. Globe Santa doesn’t blog or snap selfies or cavort with celebrities (though there’s a Globe Santa website where you can learn how to help, request assistance, and learn about upcoming events).
Most of the money that’s raised is used to buy toys. In the pre-COVID days when the Globe Santa campaign ventured out in public for fund-raising purposes, Santa’s “sleigh” was a decorated, retrofitted Globe delivery truck.
Retro as it may be, Globe Santa represents charity in the most real and humble sense, raising money through modest donations, distributing toys, books, and games, then quietly disappearing until next Christmas season (though donations are accepted all year round). Most of the donors are individuals, and the average donation is $200, though there are many in small amounts, all greatly appreciated. People give in honor or memory of a loved one, and these tributes are acknowledged online and in print.
“Sometimes people ask why we give toys when there are so many other basic needs that aren’t being met,” said William Connolly, the program’s executive director. “The answer is that it’s an opportunity for kids to think: ‘Somebody thought about me.’ It reinforces their self-esteem: When other kids ask them what they got for the holidays, they know they’re no different than anyone else.”
“Toys and kids: They go together, they always have, and I don’t know why they shouldn’t still,” said Globe veteran Tom Mulvoy, a former longtime managing editor who also served as Globe Santa editor. “I was dumbfounded reading these letters. People are willing to give their names and addresses and say, ‘I need some help so my kids will be the same as the kids down the street.’ That’s bottom-line stuff.”
Linda Matchan can be reached at email@example.com.
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