Love Santa serves nearly 400 families
It's a common sight on a Wednesday in December at Woodburn Foursquare Church: Volunteers scurrying around the gymnasium, collecting and wrapping gifts, then adding them to the mountain of bags full of gifts to give to needy families.
"We've already got presents at home wrapped, so we thought we'd come here," volunteer Lynda Trost said, as she perused the donated items for a toy to wrap. "I'm always impressed with all the volunteers. It's always fun; I like doing it."
Love Santa, Inc., just completed another year of distributing holiday meals and gifts to 330 families on Saturday. St. Vincent de Paul Society out of St. Luke Catholic Church took care of 65 additional families.
Love Santa President Robert Prinslow, who has been volunteering with Love Santa for about 18 years, coordinates every year, and for nearly as long, his kids have come along to help out too.
"They've been doing this for probably 12, 13 years," he said, noting that his youngest, McKenna Prinslow, probably doesn't remember a time they didn't volunteer for Love Santa.
Love Santa solicits donations from the neighborhoods it serves. One major way is through the annual firefighter's drive on the first Saturday of December, when fire trucks blare their sirens through residential areas, seeking nonperishable food and unwrapped toys. It's a practice that has happened for decades in communities throughout northern Marion County.
Additionally, Love Santa has taken to social media more each year to solicit donations and volunteers. It also has some local businesses serve as drop-off locations.
The Hubbard distribution, which was Dec. 8 and also serves the communities of Donald and Aurora, saw 65 families served with food boxes this year.
"We had a lot of help, the schools are stepping up a lot more to help than they ever have, doing their own food drives and toy drives," said James Audritsh, Love Santa board member who heads up the Hubbard distribution. "It's a great learning lesson for the students."
Audritsh said that food donations were initially down this year, but local business owners and private citizens stepped up at the last minute, supplying massive quantities of food, filling all 330 food boxes with items like Hamburger Helper or muffin mix.
"It seemed like everybody really stepped up all around," he said. "Lots of people have told me, 'I'm sorry I only collected this amount.' But you collected this and someone else collected that, and when you collectively get together, it's a lot of food and a lot of gifts. Every little bit helps."
He attributes the initial drop in donations to the booming economy.
"People feel that if the economy is doing better, there's going to be less of a need," Audritsh said. "To some degree, that's true. But there's still a huge disparity. If you don't have a high paying job it's really hard to keep food on your table. We're just trying to help people out who don't have those basic things."
That being said, there are no requirements for families who sign up to receive a food box and gifts.
"We don't discriminate, we don't base it on income," Prinslow said. "If you sign up, you get a food box."
And there's no requirements to be a volunteer either. In fact, Aurora resident Michaela Loucks was wrapping gifts in Woodburn after Love Santa supported her family this year.
"They helped us out so I thought I'd return the favor," she said.
When he learned that a recipient of the program was in turn giving back, Audritsh smiled.
"We have a lot of people coming back to help like that," he said. "It's pretty awesome."