Letters to Santa – 10 Years of Christmas Cheer
For 10 years, Impact has partnered with Pickard Elementary School in conjunction with the Letters to Santa program to provide gifts to Pickard students. In its 10-year partnership, Impact employees have gathered donations and shopped for, wrapped, and delivered gifts directly to the students. While our partnership with Pickard has expanded over the years, the premise remains unchanged – provide the students with gifts to make their holidays special. To date, 3,000 gifts have been purchased, wrapped and delivered to happy students. Each year in September, Pickard students from pre-kindergarten to 4th grade write a letter to Santa detailing what they want for Christmas. Teachers work with the students to create a list of 3 possible gifts, which are compiled in the letter to Santa.
This is where Heidi Cucco steps in to work her very special holiday magic. “For the month of October, I engage myself in a labor of love. I spend about 12 hours a day for 30 days gathering the students’ letters to Santa and then personally shopping for and wrapping the approximately 300 gifts that Pickard students request every year.” Heidi has taken charge of the Impact Letters to Santa program for the past six years, and it has been a process of perpetual improvement as the program has evolved and taken shape over time. “I saw the potential to take this great program and make it even better,” said Heidi, “and one of the simplest ways to really amp up the wow factor was through the presentation of these gifts. So I started looking for higher quality wrapping paper that wouldn’t tear, and I ended up finding this gorgeous paper that makes receiving these gifts even more special for the students. Then I attach a bow and candy cane to the gift. It is so exciting to see the students’ faces light up when Santa gives them their present. And that, of course, is what this is all about.”
As Impact has grown, our relationship with Pickard and the Letters to Santa program has been amplified. In 2009, Impact made the decision to “adopt” Pickard and seek additional opportunities to contribute to the school through other charitable efforts. This has resulted in direct benefits for Pickard through Letters to Santa and other events, including a Career Day for 8th Grade Pickard students in the fall of 2016. For students, teachers, and Impact employees that have worked closely with Pickard, the most rewarding aspect of this partnership comes through seeing the positive impact that this relationship has had on students’ lives. Anne Berenguer has been able to witness the students’ anticipation of this event firsthand. “Every year, the students get excited about seeing Santa from the moment they write their letters. When the day of Santa’s arrival finally comes, it’s incredible to see their faces light up. Even the older students who have already gone through the program have fond memories and share in the excitement of their younger siblings and other younger students.”
Impact Partner Nate Robinson has had the privilege of being on Santa’s errand at Pickard since the program began. For him, the jolliness required for filling in for Santa comes naturally. “It’s incredible to think we have been doing Letters to Santa for ten years now. The preschoolers and kindergarteners we were handing the gifts out to in the very beginning have now graduated or are in their last year at Pickard. Watching the good we have been able to enact in these students’ lives is hands down the best part of the entire experience, and we can’t wait to grow this program even more through the years.”
Reading the letters from the students is a humbling experience in and of itself. Students typically describe the ways in which they have been good, which often include helping their parents around the house or caring for younger siblings. Requests from Santa this year included Legos, art supplies, winter clothing, and sporting equipment. One fourth grader had a simple request that puts into perspective the types of gifts Pickard students ask for. “I asked Santa for a basketball, because I lost mine. That or a soccer ball, because mine went flat.” For everyone involved in the Letters to Santa program, the goal and reward of the entire experience remains unchanged – making the holidays a little brighter for these incredible and deserving students.