The Christmas for Kids organization has been going strong in the lakes area for years, and this year helped more than 85 lakes area families have a brighter Christmas.
The program provides gifts and a holiday meal for less fortunate children in the Nisswa, Lake Shore, Pequot Lakes, Breezy Point, Jenkins, Ideal Corners and Merrifield areas. On Christmas Eve day, area law enforcement authorities and other volunteers dress as Santa and elves to deliver all the presents.
Many longtime volunteers never tire of the bewildered looks on children’s faces when Santa delivers bags full of gifts with each child’s name on them.
“It’s absolutely amazing,” said Terry Wallin, who has played Santa since 1985, when former Pequot Lakes police chief Mark Forsberg recruited him and his brother, Peter.
Started by area law enforcement, the program had fewer volunteers back then.
“We’d start at 8 or 9 a.m. and go all day,” Wallin said.
Now, with so many groups of Santas and elves, they deliver six or so bags each and are done before noon.
Why, 27 years later, does Wallin continue to give up his Christmas Eve morning every year to play Santa?
“The pure enjoyment,” he said without hesitation. “To see the smiles on kids’ faces.”
Nisswa fire chief Richard Geike couldn’t agree more. Geike also has played Santa for the past 25-plus years for Christmas for Kids.
“The kids,” he said immediately when asked why he continues to volunteer his time on the holiday. “Those kids are great, and it’s certainly not the kids’ fault they’re in the position they’re in.”
Geike even recruited his son, Nathan, to play Santa, too.
The program has evolved to where children are getting the specific items on their Christmas lists for Santa, Geike said.
“So they’re getting what they want,” he said.
He, too, remembers the days of delivering presents through the afternoon.
“There’s so much help now that it’s amazing,” he said.
While it’s satisfying to see happy kids, emotions are also mixed.
“We’ve had kids ask for warm clothes or a hot meal,” Geike said.
Running the program is a huge undertaking, and it’s one that Katie Wagener of Lake Shore has spearheaded for years. Thursday night, Dec. 20, she supervised volunteers at the Nisswa Community Center as they wrapped all the presents for the Santas to deliver.
“It’s nice to give back to the community,” Wallin said.