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From cats to CAT scans, Santa Fund honors many

It wasn’t quite the record-breaking drive as last year, but this year’s Santa Fund for Schoolkids has concluded with $213,524.73 in donations. That means that hundreds of needy local children will get a coat, shoes, internet access, or something else like medicine or transportation to make living and learning easier. The fund has wrapped its 128th year.

“That’s a long-running program in our community,” said Markiana Smith of the United Way of Greater Charlottesville, a partner in the annual drive.

The Santa Fund was created in 1894 by the founding publisher of the The Daily Progress, James H. Lindsey, and is now co-sponsored with the United Way and radio station WINA. The fund serves nearly 1,500 children in the city of Charlottesville and the counties of Albemarle, Buckingham, Fluvanna, Greene, Louisa, Madison, Nelson and Orange.

In December, one Charlottesville mom told the Daily Progress how the Santa Fund gave her daughter the opportunity to go into a store and pick out items including a winter coat.

“She was like, ‘Can I pick out anything?’” the mom recalled.

Any combination of things up to $100 was fair game, so this young woman went to Marshalls with a Santa Fund voucher in hand.

“To see the excitement on her face to pick out something without worrying,” exclaimed the mom. “She was so excited.”

In addition to Marshalls, participating stores are Kid-to-Kid, Roses, Shoe Show Inc, and TJMaxx, said the United Way’s Smith.

“We’re always looking for more retailers,” says Smith. “A lot of them say, ‘Wow, I didn’t know I could help in that way.’”

As the donor engagement manager, Smith has the joyful task during the holiday season of processing each day’s monetary gifts. That means downloading online donations but also opening the mailbox at the United Way’s Garrett Street office and finding contributions with hand-written checks and hand-written notes.

“I think that’s very powerful,” says Smith. “Some people write the same people every year. Other people are remembering someone they lost during the year.”

Donors can say as much or as little as they want.

“There are always anonymous people who want to give,” says Smith. “They just do the good thing to do the good thing.”

Recent donations include a gift in celebration of MLK Day, a gift to honor the memory of beloved late UVA Law professor Walter Wadlington, and a donation to honor a long list of names including “Purri Long Tail” and other cats.

“I always enjoy the ones from pets,” said Smith.

A few days ago, one gift arrived to honor the living educator Vin Cibbarelli and the late city manager, Cole Hendrix, while another gift honored late philosopher Paul W. Humphreys.

While the amounts may vary, Smith said she happily types them all just as the donors wanted.

A $75,000 gift “in honor of the teachers in our community and their ability to best identify our children in need” received no larger billing than the $52.50 given “in appreciation and admiration of area foster parents.”

Sometimes companies such as Mincer’s and Grand Home Furnishings donate. Other gifts remember a health care team such the UVa Cancer Center, Our Lady of Peace Christopher Center, and the “caring team on Westminster-Canterbury’s Healthcare 3.” The staff at Martha Jefferson Hospital was recently honored by someone who asked to be identified only as “a grateful anesthesiologist.”

“I type exactly what they say on their notes and send that off to the Daily Progress, which prints every tribute,” said Smith.

Although donations are accepted all year, the annual drive kicked off on Thanksgiving Day and continued through mid-January. Last year’s record drive received $242,868.74, and organizers had set $250,000 as this year’s goal.

“It was a super-ambitous goal,” said WINA radio morning host Jay James. “It’s still remarkable what the people in this community have done.”

James notes that the economy is facing unusually high inflation and other pandemic-related headwinds, but he remains impressed by the nearly $215,000 raised this season.

“We as a community are always capable of accomplishing these type of goals, and hopefully when we have this opportunity before us again, we’ll be able to surpass,” said James.


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