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Help Santa Make a Child’s Christmas

The students at Pickard Elementary School in Pilsen have already written their Letters to Santa and are eagerly awaiting his annual visit to the school.

Santa does things up right when he visits Pickard, hosting a big pizza party for all 620 students, and bringing gifts for some 300 kids in pre-k through fourth grade.

I have it on good authority from bright-eyed fourth-graders Orlando and Xitlalli that it will be one of the highlights of their school year, not to mention the holiday, which isn’t to say they don’t love their studies.

Xitlalli thinks she would like to be a teacher. Orlando is keeping his options open, preferring math over writing at this stage of his academic career.

In her letter to Santa, Xitlalli sought the answer to one of life’s great mysteries:how many cookies did he eat last Christmas?

Orlando told Santa about his cat and how he likes to play basketball. “I’m not in a league. I just play,” he says.

All across Chicago, thousands of such Letters to Santa have been carefully drafted, and now Santa’s helpers need to step up to make sure they are properly answered with a gift.

Yes, it’s that time again when we at the Chicago Sun-Times ask you to help us continue to make our annual Letters to Santa program a bright spot in the lives of thousands of children.

All you need to do to request a child’s letter and get started is to go online at or call 312-300-4193.

We’ll make sure Santa sends you as many letters as you request, along with instructions, such as how much money to spend (no more than $25-$30 per child) and a deadline for delivering the gifts to the school.

As someone who participates in the program, I always tell people it is a much more fulfilling experience than most of the holiday shopping you will do.

But it also is a little more labor intensive than some gift programs because we’re asking you to do more than send a check, although monetary donations are much appreciated, too.

It’s important if you take a letter to follow through because you do not want to be the person responsible for making Santa look bad, or more important, for breaking a little kid’s heart who is left out.

Having visited and spoken to the coordinators of many of these holiday school parties over the years, I can tell you the children are always very excited and very appreciative.

“Having this extra special experience is really important to the kids,” said Patrick Rand, an art teacher who coordinates the program at Pickard.

You won’t be able to specifically help the kids at Pickard Elementary because the employees at Impact Networking LLC in Waukegan beat you to it – taking responsibility for the entire school.

But our goal is to answer more than 10,000 letters this year, which leaves plenty yet to be fulfilled at the 55 schools, Head Start programs and non-profit agencies served through the program.

Impact Networking, an office equipment distributor, started working with Pickard in 2009 when an employee thought it would be nice to buy gifts for one class through Letters to Santa.

When company executives delivered the presents, they saw for themselves the great needs that existed at the school and with the low income families it serves. Ever since, they have been the school’s best friend – not only at Christmas but throughout the year.

Company CEO Frank Cucco and his wife Heidi get the whole company involved in making the party a success.

“It kind of tugged on our heart strings,” Impact exec Nathan Robinson says, recalling Letters to Santa asking for coats or blankets or shoes for a sibling instead of toys. One child even asked for a new toolkit for her father.

“It’s been a big, pardon the pun, impact to our organization,” Robinson said. “We get just as much back as we give to the school.”

They give plenty, says Pickard Principal Rigo Hernandez, whose classrooms have been the beneficiary of numerous technology items donated by the company.

I can tell you somebody is doing something right at Pickard because the group of students from the school newspaper who quizzed me Friday asked better questions than the ones I posed to Orlando and Xitlalli.

Our own elves at the Letters to Santa program love corporate partners like Impact Networking who do so much, but don’t let that intimidate you.

All we’re asking you to do is answer one letter – and help make a child’s wish come true.

It could have a nice impact on the both of you.

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