Central Virginians stepped way up this holiday season with donations to the Santa Fund for Schoolkids, as the home-grown charity expanded its efforts in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic’s impacts on families.
Fueled in part by last month’s $75,000 donation from an anonymous donor, this year’s drive received a record $229,415.58 in donations, smashing the $175,000 goal for the third record year in a row.
The extra money will come in handy as officials have expanded the Santa Fund’s traditional role of providing students with clothing, medicine and other essential items to helping families provide internet access for students, transportation and meals.
“As always, we are humbled by the giving spirit of our community,” said Peter Yates, Daily Progress president. “Led by our anonymous Santa Fund angel’s leadership gift, supporters of the Santa Fund for Schoolkids answered the call in record numbers this year.”
The Santa Fund was created in 1894 by The Daily Progress’ founding publisher, James H. Lindsey. Co-sponsored with radio station WINA in conjunction with the United Way of Greater Charlottesville, 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
The Santa Fund is a totally local charity with the money raised in the area staying in the area. Donations traditionally have been used to provide shoes, clothing, medicine, eyeglasses, school supplies and other essentials to children in need all year around.
The fund is unique in that there are no family income requirements and vouchers are distributed by the United Way to be redeemed in local stores. Teachers, pastors and others in the community who see a child in need can help arrange a voucher from the Santa Fund to take care of those needs.
The annual drives kicks off on Thanksgiving Day and continues through mid-January, though donations are accepted all year. Often the donations, which are listed in The Progress daily during the drive, are dedicated in the honor or memory of loved ones.
This year, COVID-19 changed the fund.
With the pandemic keeping many students at home, Santa Fund organizers agreed to help provide computers and WiFi hotspots and other internet tools to keep those without web access connected.
“We can use the funding because we have new needs to fill,” said Ravi Respeto, president of the United Way of Greater Charlottesville, which administers the fund. “The whole idea is to help students in school who are at a disadvantage, and the pandemic has just shown that there are more needs and different needs than we’ve ever had before.”
Barbara Hutchinson, vice president of community impact for the local United Way, said the Santa Fund has been utilized to help entire families when a situation impedes a student’s ability to learn.
“We’ve been helping families that are having problems, with the predominate request being internet access,” she said. “Many parents with reduced employment because of the virus or who have lost employment cannot afford to pay their Comcast or Ting bill for internet. That’s money that may have to go for food.”
According to national figures, the average cost of high-speed internet is about $57 a month. That does not include an average $15 for equipment rental, franchise fees or state and local taxes, which can easily jack a bill up to $75 or more.
For many families, the Santa Fund has helped more than one student by providing internet access, including providing access to remote areas via mobile internet centers.
“For a single parent with reduced employment or lost employment, even $29 for a three-month internet bill may be too much because that money has to go for food,” Hutchinson said. “We’ve been able to provide some financial help so they can stay connected or provide hotspots so the students can still log on. We’ve also helped provide car repair for families so they can take their children to remote learning centers and still go to work to keep their jobs.”
The fund also has fielded requests for financial assistance to stave off electricity disconnects and evictions and for food assistance.
The fund also was used to help assist a Charlottesville City Schools initiative that provided new clothes for students.
Yates said the record amount of donations is needed in the face of record need.
“We cannot adequately express our appreciation to all the donors who helped us raise over $225,000 in one of the most challenging years on record,” he said. “This record response will allow us to help more families than ever at a time when the need may never have been greater.”
Nathaniel Turner, $200
Anonymous, in honor of Mike and Carolyn Stone, $100
Gomez Family, in memory of Ben Hair, $102.56
Penelope Crisp, $200
In honor of David Maurer, $100
Mincer’s University of Virginia Imprinted Sportswear, $125
In honor of our grandsons: Gavin, Ethan, Noah and Maximus, $50
From the Free Union Homemakers, $25
T & J Wolanski Family Fund, $500
Richard and Susan Howard-Smith Charitable Fund, $100
Alexandra Summers Fund, $250
Anonymous from Greene County, $200
Thompson-Hall Lodge #5 Fraternal Order of Police, $500
TODAY’S TOTAL: $2,965.38
RUNNING TOTAL: $229,415.58
OVER GOAL BY: $54,415.58