Santa’s Helpers founder Amanda Chirico’s living room is filled with presents going to needy families this Christmas. With the help of friends and strangers over 30 families received gifts and grocery cards — a tribute to help Chirico’s family received 30 years ago.

Making Christmas that much more special in Nelson

It may have been 30 years ago, but some Christmas memories last a lifetime.

It may have been 30 years ago, but some Christmas memories last a lifetime.

When Amanda Chirico was a little girl, someone in the community helped her family by bringing donations to their home during the holiday season. Her mom was a proud single parent with five young daughters.

“I didn’t know that we were poor as kids. I had no clue. Mom was a very proud person,” said Chirico. “She asked, ‘who did this? Who did this?’ And the ladies who were walking in boxes of food and presents said, ‘just people who wanted you to have a good Christmas.’ And that was the first time I’d ever seen my mom cry.”

With the memory still alive in Chirico’s heart after many years, she decided it was time to give back.

“I thought if I remember that 30 years later, I need to do that for someone else,” she said.

And Santa’s Helpers was born. Five years ago, Chirico put out her request on Facebook hoping her friends; co-workers and neighbours would help her give one local family a better Christmas.

“I was quite overwhelmed by the response,” she said.

In Santa’s Helpers first year, they helped four families, not one. It’s grown ever since.

This year, 32 families are on the receiving end of generosity funneled through a Facebook page organized and maintained by Chirico. More than 75 people participated.

Santa’s Helpers depends on the help of local schools that identify families who may not qualify for social assistance. These folks are already flagged for help by other agencies, said Chirico.

“We specifically wanted to find those families who were trying to make it, but maybe falling through the cracks,” she said. “It’s incredible how many families there are.”

Schools who participated gave out ages and genders of attending students, but that’s it. Maintaining anonymity is important for Chirico.

Then, the call goes out and people are more than happy to support Santa’s Helpers thanking Chirico for organizing the effort. Along with positive feelings, gifts start piling up at her home and Annie’s Boutique.

“There is just an incredible support system of friends and acquaintances and people that just want to do it. Most of the time they say to me ‘I want to do this I just don’t know where to start.’”

This year Santa’s Helpers will distribute 85 presents to children and $2,300 in grocery gift cards to families.

The week before Christmas, presents were delivered to the schools where staff made arrangements for drop-off or pick-up.

“The only thing I want them to say if anyone asks is that this was from a group that wanted families to have a bit of a better Christmas this year,” she said, using the words she heard as a child.

For Chirico, playing Santa has grown into an experience requiring patience and understanding alongside the tremendous gratitude she feels.

“It’s overwhelming to be honest,” she said. “When I first wanted to do this it was simple — there were just a few families.”

The challenge of coordinating more and more donors with children means making many lists and checking them more than once. Santa has her elves as helpers, but ultimately it’s Chirico’s project. Driven to keep this going into its fifth year, she said it’s all about the heartwarming feeling she gets.

“Someone knocked on my door last night at 9 o’clock with a gift. I don’t even know the person. They said this is for Santa’s Helpers. I thanked them and put it in the living room and I cried,” she said. “I have all these wrapped presents in my living room and they’re just so lovely. And all these presents came from the hearts of strangers.”

Chirico has always been surrounded by love at Christmas time. She came from a big family and now has one of her own. Her children are 17, 15, 11 and nine-years-old.

“It’s chaotic, but lovely,” she said.

Chirico’s kids support her as she devotes much of her Christmas energy to Santa’s Helpers.

“They all know that our house is overflowing with gifts for a very short amount of time and not one of them belongs to them,” she said.

The charitable mom hopes her children always remember the giving spirit and donate to a cause like it when they’re grown.

 

Just Posted

Smoke-free summer a boon for West Kootenay tourism

Tourism centres seeing numbers up

MLA Michelle Mungall to stream live Q and A on Facebook

MLA Michelle Mungall will be streaming a half-hour-long question and answer segment Facebook.

LETTER: Make pot illegal again

From reader Rod Retzlaff

Nelson city council takes e-bike tour of new development

Council has endorsed e-bikes as a means to reduce carbon emissions and support healthy lifestyles.

National trail group decries province’s plans for West Kootenay trail

Converting trail back to motorized use will harm its international reputation, says official

Black Press Career Fair underway in Cranbrook at Days Inn

Opportunities abound for employers and job seekers

Vancouver Island father says he attempted suicide a month before murders

Andrew Berry takes stand in his defense for December 2017 deaths of young daughters

‘Plenty of time for a deal’: Teachers’ union expects kids back in school on Sept. 3

BCTF says class size, composition at the heart of the issue

Province funds new shuttle buses for 13 B.C. senior centres

Activity, socializing helps maintain health, Adrian Dix says

Thermal imaging cameras eye Salish Sea in hopes of better detecting whales

Cameras installed at BC Ferries’ terminal on Galiano Island, and off southern Gulf Islands

BREAKING: Province approves Surrey police force

Minister of Public Safety Mike Farnworth green-lights city’s municipal police force

B.C. father tells judge he did not kill his young daughters

Andrew Berry pleaded not guilty to the December 2017 deaths

Police watchdog investigating two officers after Langley teen’s suspected overdose

According to IIO, two officers were deployed to help Carson Crimeni but did not locate him before he died

UPDATED: Kelly Ellard gets day parole extended for six more months, overnight leave

Kelly Ellard was convicted of killing 14-year-old Reena Virk in 1997

Most Read