When Duane Youse and Joel Folk first launched the Santa House, a gift drive for low-income families in Arvada and Wheat Ridge, the project wasn’t without its challenges. The first year, organizers …
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When Duane Youse and Joel Folk first launched the Santa House, a gift drive for low-income families in Arvada and Wheat Ridge, the project wasn’t without its challenges. The first year, organizers ran out of toys to give to families, and a snow storm hurt participation, Youse said.
But what wasn’t an issue was the passion of the community to help others, which over time, built the Santa House into an endeavor that has served nearly 30,000 children in its 13 years.
“Arvada has always been a community that has stepped forward for causes, particularly surrounding families and kids, so it’s always been easy to get help,” Youse said. “They’re just a different type of people out here than I think anywhere else.”
Having spent more than a decade fine-tuning the drive, Youse and Folk have passed the torch to residents Cheryl and Henry Norton, who have volunteered with the drive for two years.
“It’s a great opportunity to serve the community. I think it’s important to spread holiday cheer,” Cheryl said. “The more we pass forward our good fortune to others, hopefully, the more contagious giving can be.”
The 14th annual Santa House will take place on the first floor of Arvada Presbyterian Church, 5592 Independence St., Dec. 11-19, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
The drive will be closed on Dec. 15. The drive will hold extended hours, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., on Dec. 13 and 18.
Families whose children attend one of 17 specified Jeffco schools will receive a voucher through the school, likely before Thanksgiving, Norton said. Families must bring their voucher with them to be eligible to participate in the Santa House.
For each student, parents can pick up two toys; a book; a coloring book; crayons; a hat and a pair of mittens. The drive also provides gift wrapping materials.
The program runs in collaboration with community group AWRSAY (Arvada Wheat Ridge Service Ambassadors for Youth), which includes more than a dozen participating partner groups, including Jeffco Public Schools and the cities of Arvada and Wheat Ridge.
Santa House began accepting donations Nov. 1, asking for new, unwrapped toys for children up to 12 years old, or monetary donations.
Those contributing should bring donations to any Apex Park and Recreation District facility, which are listed at apexprd.org. They can also give a monetary donation online at coloradogives.org/rrccfoundation.
The Apex district will accept donations through Dec. 8, while Arvada Presbyterian Church will accept donations on-site on Dec. 9 and 10.
Norton and her fellow organizers also seek volunteers to run the event and guide families through the Santa House. For each day of operation, the drive will need about 50 volunteers, she said. Prospective volunteers can get involved by reaching out to volunteer coordinators with any AWRSAY-affiliated group, she said.
Further, the event is already looking ahead to next year, with Youse asking community or faith-based groups with available space for the 2020 drive to reach out.
Having seen the effects of the drive firsthand for his students and their families, principal Rob Malling of Allendale Elementary stressed the importance of the community program.
"Seventy percent of our families qualify for free or reduced lunch, meaning there is not a lot of disposable income left for the holidays. As a community, we need to remember that all of our neighbors care for their families as much as we do," he said. "This program makes the holidays a less stressful time of the year."
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