By Angeljean Chiaramida STAFF WRITER
Newburyport Daily News
---- — SALISBURY — Just because it’s a decades-old tradition doesn’t mean Salisbury’s Santa’s Helpers isn’t as important today as it was 38 years ago, when Betty Cloonan and her friends began to make sure Christmas was special for every child in town.
“I have to tell you this is an extraordinarily important campaign in town,” said Salisbury businessman Wayne Capolupo, who’s supported Santa’s Helpers for years. “There are a lot of children who would get little or nothing Christmas morning if it weren’t for Santa’s Helpers.”
A privately run and financed organization, Santa’s Helpers grew out of a mothers club at the local church that provided after-school activities for their own children. It turned into a holiday program when Cloonan realized the degree of need in town. Salisbury children not finding gifts under the tree Christmas morning simply isn’t acceptable to Cloonan and her crew. Since it began, the charity’s helped thousands of kids, last year alone more than 400.
Santa’s Helpers Benefit Auction, its most important fundraising event, is scheduled for Sunday, Nov. 18, at Blue Ocean Music Hall. Admission is free, the bidding starts at 1 p.m., but those in the know get there earlier to preview the gifts, which are plentiful and can include gift baskets, certificates from local businesses, furniture, sports tickets and scores more.
According to Linda Boragine, one of Santa’s Helpers, the event raises money for the thousands of new Christmas goodies that will be delivered to local families in time for Christmas morning.
“And at the end of the auction, Wayne offers everyone who comes a great, free pasta buffet,” she said. “It’s really a great time.”
Boragine’s Alpha and Omega Beauty Salon in Salisbury Square is a collection place for donations for the auction, money and things that will make up the huge baskets, special auction items, including dozens of gift certificates from local businesses.
“We have gift certificates from a lot of businesses,” Boragine said. “And we have a lot of other great things people can bid on. We have quilts, made by the women at the Senior Center and by others, that are beautiful. They’re always some of the most popular items at the auction.”
What’s still needed is money, cash or checks made payable to Santa’s Helpers dropped off at Boragine’s salon or at Salisbury Elementary School, along with more gift certificates or other new items that will engage bidders and drive up the prices.
“One of the most important things people can do to help is to come to the auction and bid up the things being offered,” Capolupo said. “Turnout sometimes has been a little off, so we need people to reinvigorate the enthusiasm for the auction so Betty can buy the gifts for the kids in town. It’s come a long way, and I can’t tell you how hard Betty works to make sure every child is happy on Christmas morning.”
Cloonan works with local school officials, and applications for Salisbury’s Santa’s Helpers program are available at the nurse’s office at Salisbury Elementary School.
As important as toys are at Christmas, kids need clothing to get through the year. Cloonan interviews every family that applies to the program, and gifts are individualized for each. They may include winter jackets, hats, gloves, boots, sneakers, sleepwear, school outfits, even underwear.
And, of course, Cloonan tries to make sure that each child gets the favorite toy on his or her wish list. Everything is individually wrapped and everything is new.
“Who wants to get something used for Christmas?” Cloonan can often be heard saying. “Christmas is such a special time.”
For more information, call Cloonan at 978-465-8412 or Boragine at 978-463-4211.
Another Way To Help Santa
Hobo’s Cafe and Lounge on Broadway at Salisbury Beach is currently running its 12th Annual Toy Drive to support Santa’s Helpers. The owners invite everyone to drop off a new, unwrapped toy for a child of any age at the restaurant any day after 11 a.m. between now and the middle of December.
All of the toys go to local kids, so it is a great way to help neighbors in need to brighter their Christmas season.
To thank everyone who donates, Hobo’s is hosting a Toy Drive Dinner and Dance Party on Sunday, Dec. 2, at 3 p.m., which will include a complimentary dinner buffet and karaoke. This will be a family friendly that children will enjoy as well.
For more information, call HOBO’s at 978-465-4626.