SALISBURY — For four decades, no child in Salisbury has awakened on Christmas morning without finding new gifts under the tree — no matter how tough things were for their parents.
That’s been possible because of the hard work of the men and women known in town as Santa’s Helpers.
“I can’t believe this is our 40th year,” said Betty Cloonan, the driving force behind the holiday project. “We started it when my (son) Jimmy was in kindergarten. It started with the Mothers’ Club at Star of the Sea Church, but Rev. Crabtree, who was pastor at East Parish Methodist Church at the time, was also very involved.”
Santa’s Helpers grew out of the after-school program Cloonan and other mothers began initially to provide wholesome, fun activities for local children. It turned into a holiday gift extravaganza when the mothers realized that for some of their children’s friends, Christmas wasn’t such a happy time.
Those mothers, led by Cloonan, decided to do something about it.
That year and every year since, Cloonan and her crew buy thousands of gifts for distribution to local children whose families are enduring financial stress. More than just toys, every child also gets warm winter clothing, like coats, hats and gloves, boots, sneakers, sleepwear and two or three school outfits. Plus, Santa’s Helpers try to get each child his or her favorite wish toy, plus other gifts that are age-appropriate.
“Everything we provide is brand-new,” Cloonan said. “We don’t give used Christmas gifts. Everything is individually wrapped so kids have lots of things to open for Christmas.”
As many as 400 local children are served through the holiday program each year, which requires a lot of work, gifts and money to make it happen.
One of the program’s biggest fundraisers every year is Santa’s Helpers Holiday Auction, which this year takes place on Sunday, Nov. 24, at the Blue Ocean Music Hall. The event offers both silent and live auctions with a range of items, all donated by residents and businesses. Cloonan said there are gift baskets, tickets to sporting events, gift cards, lottery trees and lots more.