TAMPA – Most adults are at their station in life due to the choices they’ve made along the way.
But that can’t be said about children.
That is the reasoning behind Temple Terrace chiropractor Debra Hoffman’s passion about the Sincerely Santa program. Every year since its 1987 inception, Sincerely Santa has provided holiday gifts from the wish lists of Hillsborough County public school pre-kindergarten-through-third-grade youngsters whose families live at or below the poverty level.
Hoffman, who for more than a decade has served as treasurer of the all-volunteer nonprofit organization, said this year’s program will bring Christmas cheer to about 6,000 underprivileged kids plus their siblings from some 34 schools whose handwritten wish-list letters to Santa were selected by their teachers and guidance counselors to be recipients of the program’s good will.
“I have grandchildren and they have no concept of what it means to be needy,” Hoffman said.
Her wish is that others would understand the direness of the issue and do what they could to help fill the children’s wish list.
“Hard times and poverty don’t seem to be going away and their needs are simple – shoes, socks and underwear,” said Hoffman, who noted most of the children’s wish lists also include some fun stuff for themselves as well as their brothers and sisters.
Unwrapped gifts and monetary donations may be dropped off at any fire station throughout the county. The items in turn are taken to an undisclosed warehouse where they’re are sorted and tagged for specific children. Monetary contributions are set aside for volunteers to use on their shopping spree at Wal-Mart in Valrico, where they purchase gifts from the children’s wish lists that aren’t among the donated items.
Local fire rescue and law enforcement officials change hats and play the role of Santa’s helpers by hand delivering the items just prior to Christmas Eve day.
“I think the help they provide is our biggest gift of all,” Hoffman said.
For many years David Raasch, a Hillsborough County Fire Rescue driver/engineer who serves as Sincerely Santa’s vice president, lended a hand in the delivery process.
“We run into burning houses but we are all big softees when it comes to things like this,” said Raasch, who in recent times has taken on more of a behind-the-scenes role as Sincerely Santa’s volunteer coordinator.
He recalls when a young boy asked Santa for a bed so he wouldn’t have to sleep on the floor, and his wish was granted along with a bed for his sister.
He also remembers the time when a child’s wish was that he and his single mother and siblings could move north to live with his grandparents because his mother had lost her job and couldn’t provide for her family.
“We were able to get all of them bus tickets, so they packed up their belongings and away they went,” Raasch said.
He called the detailed logistics of the Sincerely Santa project a “group effort.”
“But if I personally can make a difference that is all I ask for,” Raasch said. “It’s rewarding to know that I can help out.”
David Long and his wife, Anita, the president of the Temple Terrace Junior Woman’s Club, have made it an annual holiday ritual to assist in manning the recently shut-down-for-the-season Sincerely Santa booth at the Westfield Brandon mall. It is where shoppers were encouraged to select a child’s letter to Santa and purchase one or more gifts on that youngster’s wish list.
On a recent Saturday they were joined by other members of the Temple Terrace club and later by ladies from the New Tampa Junior Woman’s Club.
“The need is so great and the Sincerely Santa program is all about the true meaning of Christmas, and that is giving,” Long said.
Monetary donations are always welcomed, Hoffman said, and whatever is not spent this year will be used as seed money for next year’s program.
Checks, made payable to Sincerely Santa can be mailed to 5802-A E. Fowler Ave., Suite 167, Tampa, FL 33617.