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Volunteers play Santa to give needy kids holiday surprises

Dec. 1, 2000



Santa Claus is not only coming to town; he is coming to the Baylor campus with Mrs. Claus and a host of elves, athletes and other volunteers today.

Marrs McLean Gym will become a place of festivities, food and toys for more than 700 Waco preschoolers.

Baylor and Aramark dining services are sponsoring the annual Santa's Workshop toy drive. The drive volunteers gather unwrapped toys for Waco children ages 3 to5, wrap the presents and then provide a Christmas party, complete with a visit for the children from Santa himself.

Santa's Workshop began the project by placing decorated boxes around campus along with informational flyers to spread the word.

'There should be a box in every building, in each department. All the dorms should have boxes, too,' said Rona Stefka, who is heading the drive at Baylor.

There is not one building on campus, including parking garages, libraries or even the McLane Student Life Center, that does not have a donation box.

'One thing we do is call the local day cares and find out how many boys and girls there are, so that when we pass the presents along to Student Activities, they can wrap them according to the numbers. We would not want a little boy to get a Barbie doll,' Stefka said.

The children that participate in this drive are from low-income homes and are recommended by the Head Start program, said Patricia LaMont of Aramark's human resources department.

'Most of these children will not receive much more than what we give them for Christmas,' Stefka said.

Santa's Workshop also provides each child with a care basket containing everything from fruit, toothbrushes and pencils, to other small items.

'Sometimes it is easier for students to give money than try to buy something for small children,' Stefka said.

The smaller gifts come from cash donations from students and what the workers themselves give. Monetary donations can be made by check payable to Baylor University (Santa's Workshop), and should be sent to Student Activities at P.O. Box 97074. Student Activities will accept donations to start the fund for next year's drive.

Today the focus is on interacting with the children and making sure they have a great time.

'We serve them hot dogs, chips, juice and ice cream,' LaMont said.

While the children are eating, they get to meet many familiar faces from the Baylor community.

'Usually, many baseball players show up in uniform, along with yell leaders and other Baylor athletes. They walk around, talk to the kids and help them with their food. Santa and Mrs. Claus also arrive early, so they can talk with the kids,' Stefka said.

There are also other things happening to keep the mood festive.

'Heavenly Voices comes and sings for the kids. And later we all sing Christmas carols together,' LaMont said. 'I even have my staff dress as elves for the day.'

With more than 700 preschoolers attending, the staff will have their hands full.

'I'm not saying that it won't be chaotic, but it will be fun,' said Jessica Truglio of the Student Activities office.

Besides meeting Santa Claus, these children have an opportunity to meet Baylor athletes.

Steve Smith, coach of the Baylor baseball team, encourages players who don't have class during the drive to attend, said Matt Williams, a Long Beach, Calif., senior, who plays first-base and third-base for the Bears.

'Even if we only have an hour off, we try to go by and see the kids. Their faces lit up when they saw us in uniform because they recognized that we were athletes.

'I liked interacting with the kids, drawing with them, asking them what their favorite sport was, what position they played and then talking to them about our team.

'I guess the neatest thing was actually being able to give them something,' Williams said.

Tim Hartshorn, a Long Beach, Calif., junior, who plays second-base for the Bears, makes a habit of participating each year.

'The kids have a great time, we have a great time. People actually have to calm me down because I start acting like a kid.

'One of my favorite parts is getting to dress in costume. The kids love that. I hope I get to do it this year. If not, we at least get to wear our uniforms,' Hartshorn said.

Even though the volunteers try to keep the kids calm and the atmosphere structured, the unexpected still happens.

'There was one year when I was wearing my expensive, official, white baseball jersey, you know, the one with my name on back, and I saw this kid. I said, 'Hey kid, show me what you got.' And he had a hot dog. Well he turns around and charges toward me, crashes into me and gets ketchup all over my white uniform. I spent the rest of the day walking with a tray in front of my chest to hide it. It was pretty funny.'

The occasional mishap does not keep the kids from enjoying the day. And with all the time and energy Baylor, Aramark, Student Activities and other organizations have put into this drive, this year will be no different.

'We are very excited to see it all come together,' Truglio said. 'We know that the kids will have a great time.'