Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Column 108 – Santa Claus

We live in pretty cynical times, and most of us have to look twice or three times at someone who seems to be about doing good and for whom we can't seem to locate something material in it for him. Even so, it's pretty hard to be cynical about Incline's Santa Claus.


You may know Santa – if you attend St. Patrick's or the Foursquare Church, or if you come to the Bonanza Tuesday morning meetings where he's a regular you've probably at least seen him and may have met him. If you don't know him, you may think he's some sort of character or eccentric, or you may figure here's a guy who's turned his appearance into a money-maker. And what about his changing his name to Santa Claus? Pretty odd, huh?


I've had the privilege of knowing Santa under one name or the other for most of my time in Incline and I'm writing this column because I think it's important that people know he's the real deal and know what he's doing. By way of full disclosure, I'm on the Board of Santa's foundation, about which more later.


Santa has been an actor, an executive, and a disaster worker. He is also a monk in the Order of St. Nicholas (of course), a community activist, and a candidate for the Fire Board. Already ordained in one denomination, he is in the process of becoming an Episcopal Priest. Most importantly, he is an advocate for children. He has traveled to 49 states on Santa's Bless the Children Tour (he is in Alaska, his 50th state, this week) visiting federal and state legislators and their staffs in every state, advocating for children throughout the United States and visiting as many children in dire circumstances as he can along the way. He does this as a volunteer, supported by private donations and otherwise at his own expense as an expression of his commitment to children's welfare.


According to the US Census Bureau, there are more than 74 million children under the age of 18 in the United States. Of that figure, about 2 million are abused, neglected, or exploited; and another 1 million are abandoned, homeless, or institutionalized. The numbers increase every year. Right now, that is 1 out of every 37 children in the United States. Santa Claus is an advocate for these children, especially those who are wards of the states.


Now Santa is starting a non-profit foundation to extend his work and to provide a vehicle for broader public support. Santa is a modest man, as you would expect, and while his vision is a big one – to eliminate child abuse and neglect and for every child to have a true home with loving parents – he sets his sights modestly. When I asked him how much he needs to raise to launch the Santa Claus Foundation (www.thesantaclausfoundation.org) he replied that he'd like about $1000 to underwrite the organizing expenses. When I asked what he would want if he could write his own ticket, he smiled and shyly replied "$4000." Modest indeed.


Much of my non-work life is devoted to creating, along with Father Jim Beebe, Santa Claus, and others, an interfaith ministry that will break down the divisions between Christians and Jews, and ultimately we hope between those of all faiths and those of no faith (and I suppose also the proverbial "ye of little faith," too). In my view efforts like Santa's will do more to erase these divisions than anything else I can think of. I recently shared an airport shuttle with a South Asian family that didn't seem to speak much English. As is my wont, I spent the ride making eye contact and smiling at their baby daughter who, in the way of small children, responded enthusiastically to me, and the parents, while not understanding what I was saying, beamed at what I was doing – that's how it is – caring about children crosses all boundaries.


As a Board Member of The Santa Claus Foundation I'm not obliged to share Santa's modesty – I would like to see the Foundation funded by much more than a few thousand dollars so that this kind, good man can continue his work unimpeded by his personal vow of poverty. His tour was funded by folks here in Incline both individually and through the churches. Why not step up and help fund the foundation as well? Think about it – isn't it time we gave something to Santa Claus for a change?


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