A little girl, about 8 or 9 years old, in line with a social worker, thought she was a "nobody."
"Santa's gonna call your name and give you presents," encouraged the social worker.
"Santa doesn't know my name I'm homeless, I'm a ‘nobody,’” was the girl's confident reply.
A few days later, the girl woke on Christmas Day to Santa in her view and the social worker standing next to her. His hands were full of gifts, but only one gift mattered: the stuffed animal with her name across it.
“You're right," she told the social worker. "I am a ‘somebody.’"
“And that hooked us,” explained Rita Swiener, founder of Santa’s Helpers Inc.
It was the story that started an organization now celebrating 50 years of giving.
Santa’s Helpers, a nonprofit organization, brings happiness to underprivileged children and families in the metro St. Louis area by delivering, since its inception, a total of more than 900,000 gifts to 30,000 families.
This year's bonus: Those holiday-helpful people plan to top those numbers by making 2018 their best yet.
Their process for this is a simple, three-step procedure.
First, volunteers help to find the year’s hottest toys at the lowest prices. Like last year’s fidget spinner, their gifts come from money and toy donations and they welcome phone calls from Walgreens with new toy shipments.
Then, they prepare each gift by wrapping it in festive paper and printing the name of the child on the front.
As Christmas and Hanukkah near, referrals come from social workers and agencies with names and families who need holiday cheer. With their list of names, the team starts to gather more information and plan their schedules for the special day – just like the one told about the young girl who thought she was a "nobody" until Santa cared enough to call hers out.
Finally, when the day arrives, some volunteers dress as Santa and appear at each family’s door, their hands full of gifts. For families who celebrate Hanukkah, the organization provides each child with a gift for every day of the holiday.
Volunteers personally hand out each present to every member of the family, while the kids spend some time with Santa.
"Once we get someone to go out as a Santa, they’re hooked,” Swiener said. “We've never had a one-time Santa."
Luckily for Santa's helpers and, of course, those they recognize, Christmas doesn’t come only one time a year. There’s also Christmas in July. In addition to giving out toys, Christmas in July offers a child the opportunity to pick out clothes and a pair of shoes.
And, no, it does not stop there either. Swiener has a secret. Plans in the making for having Christmas come around three times a year in the future.
Dominic Civili, aka the computer whiz, has been with the charity since he was 3 years old. Now an adult, Santa’s Helpers’ software engineer cannot remember being apart from it.
“That’s what Christmas meant when I was a kid, wrapping presents for these other kids,” Civili said.
Today, Santa’s Helpers continues to grow in the number of donations and volunteers every year and uses all the help it can get to make every child’s Christmas in the metro St. Louis area the most memorable ever.
Even Santa needs a little help, because he plans to use 100 percent of his allotted Old Newsboys Day funds toward buying toys, clothes and other necessities for families in need.
“For people looking to grow personally,” Civili said, “there’s no better way to find out what person you need to be than volunteering at a charity like Santa’s Helpers.”