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A 2018 photo from Secret Santa’s Boone County distribution operation at the Madison Civic Center shows volunteers at work.

The Secret Santa Foundation of West Virginia is preparing for another season of helping children in need during the Christmas season in Kanawha, Boone and Putnam counties.

The organization has been active since 1984.

“We want to make sure that people know about the program in general,” said administrator Katie MacCallum Nichols. “We’ve helped over one thousand children each Christmas, and some years we’ve topped two thousand.”

The organization’s board voted to cancel the annual in-person fundraising event in 2021 due to concerns regarding safety and COVID-19. Normally the event raises over $3,000.

“We didn’t want anyone to get ill from one of our events, as it would be a beer and pizza pairing and people would not be masked,” she said.

In the past, the organization received a private grant that provided for over 100 Boone County children, but this year, it was not extended.

Online raffles for restaurant and travel packages are in the planning stages to help fund the organization’s work. Specific information will be shared on the organization’s website and social media pages when available.

A donation link is available on the website as well via PayPal.

According to its website, the Charleston-based Secret Santa Foundation provides toys requested by the children in need. Each child completes a “wish list” of three toys and returns it to Secret Santa. The child is matched with a sponsor, or “Secret Santa,” who is responsible for purchasing the toys on the list.

Each gift is approximately $25. The sponsor is given the child’s first name, an identification number, and the child’s wish list. The gifts are labeled and bagged before they are delivered to a drop-off site by the sponsor. During the first week of December, the gifts are then gathered and brought to one central distribution point where they are sorted, counted and bundled for the parents to pick up before Christmas.

“The families indicate their child’s top three toy choices, so it isn’t just randomly assigned things and it is what these children actually want — and we try to fulfill those wishes up to the $25 mark and each child receives at least the three gifts.”

A Boone County native and Scott High graduate, MacCallum Nichols’ first experience in volunteering for the organization came in the 1990s.

“Technology has helped the process a lot since that time, but when you only see the process from the Madison end, you see already bagged gifts distributed to the families and when you see the backside of the process you realize the work that goes in through picking up and counting gifts at the drop-off locations and they are picked up and brought to a central location in Kanawha County and are counted three more times to ensure every child gets what they asked for. Then you understand the bigger picture.”

Today, correspondence with sponsors is conducted through email, which saves the organization a tremendous amount of postage costs. Volunteers wrap gifts and pick up donations at drop-off locations. Nine people serve as volunteers throughout the year. Approximately 60 volunteers help organize and distribute gifts.

“Our volunteers go to each drop-off location and we open each bag to make sure each child has three gifts in their bag,” she said.

“Anything that is donated to our program goes to a child in need,” she added.

Each year, toys for Boone County are sorted at the Madison Civic Center by approximately 30 local volunteers.

In 2018, 596 gifts were distributed in Boone County, 592 in 2019 and 404 in 2020 during the pandemic. Kanawha County saw 491, 493 and 414 and while serving just the tip of Putnam County, 12, 12 and 4.

For more information or to donate directly, visit wvsecretsanta.org and click on the “get involved” tab. Follow Secret Santa on Facebook at facebook.com/wvsecretsanta.

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