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Record $242,868 in donations helps Santa Fund continue meeting families' changing needs

The season may be cold, but the hearts of Central Virginians weren’t this holiday season with a new record set for the Santa Fund for Schoolkids as the home-grown charity continued to expand its efforts in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact.

This year’s drive received a record $242,868.74, which is up from last year’s record of $229,415.58.

The annual program has taken on new importance in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, as the fund’s traditional role has expanded in the last two years. The fund now helps provide students with clothing, medicine and other essential items and helps families provide internet access for students, transportation and meals.

“In addition to providing the region with accurate and in depth news coverage, we endeavor to be an active supporter of the community we serve,” said Eric Mayberry, president of the Daily Progress Media Group. “Our relationship with United Way, and the Santa Fund, is a very important part of what we do.”

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 fund is unique in that there are no family income requirements. 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 drive 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.

Last 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.

This past holiday season, Janie Evans, a social worker for Charlottesville City Schools and the division’s Santa Fund coordinator, said that the program was especially helpful as students returned to school full-time and the pandemic had cut many parents’ hours and jobs.

Evans said several families who came to the division with almost nothing, and the fund gave them an opportunity to pick out new clothes.

Evans recalled how one boy kept wearing the same sweatpants and flip flops to school each day until his family received a voucher.

“I think it made a big difference for him to show up to school in new clothes,” Evans said of one student’s experience. “To go shopping for clothes and to wear something brand new is something that some of these families don’t typically get to do.”


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