John (name has been changed in respect for the family) , The reason for the Sheriff Santa Project
The first couple of years (1996 and 1997), the Santa Project was only Santa (Deputy Steve Gralian, who’s nickname was, “Guts” some said it was because he was fearless and others said it was because he was shaped like a round and jolly Santa), myself (in uniform) and a couple of elves (Santa’s daughter and my oldest daughter) that handed out candy canes. We visited every room of the children’s ward and took Polaroid photos that we left in their rooms with them.
The following year (1998) Debra the Kaiser Child Life Specialist contacted Santa in late November and asked him (me) to do something special this year for a very special eleven year old boy named John. Debra told Santa that John wanted a Nintendo 64 (really popular video game back then) for Christmas and that his family could not afford to buy it for him. She told Santa he was a great kid and that all the staff loved him and that his parents and siblings were just like him. Santa cut her off and said “No problem, consider it done”. Debra said, “Wait I’m not finished.” Debra then asked if there was any way Santa could make a surprise visit to John’s home this year because it may be his last one and his health was getting worse. After hearing the story about John Santa told Debra no problem and we will make sure John, his siblings and his parents would get what they wanted and Santa would also furnish Christmas stockings stuffed with candy, coloring books, crayons and small toys. Debra thanked Santa and said the family would be overwhelmed with happiness.
So I have no money left in my budget because I had already purchased the stockings, candy, coloring books etc.. for the kids that would be at the hospital. I went home and told my wife what I had gotten us into and to my surprise she said, “Well I guess we need to get to work.” While talking about John and his family my middle daughter told me John could have her Nintendo64 and the games to go with it. My wife was not so surprised but I was holding back tears. How could I back out now. I called John’s mother and got a wish list for the family, I promised mom that we would do what we could but I was not sure about the Nintendo64 (I wanted it to be a surprise to the whole family). As I started telling friends and fellow Deputies about what we were doing everyone got excited and everyone started giving me money, $10.00 dollars here and $5.00 there. Soon we had enough money collected that we were able to give the family everything they asked for. The night came when Santa, Mike (me) dressed as the head elf, my wife, as my helper and my oldest daughter as an elf went to John’s house to fulfill his Christmas wish.
It was magical to say the least, the parents and the siblings each opened a couple of small gifts while John got to open only one, the Nintendo64 with all the games. You would have thought we gave them the world. The whole family exploded with yells of joy and John launched himself at Santa almost flipping him over a chair. He gave Santa the biggest hug for a few minutes and then hugged each of us that were there, that is when the parent’s waterworks started and yes, I was a little teary eyed too (at least that is what my wife told me later).
Now, Santa can only make one stop a year at each house, so he would have to leave the Santa gifts with the parents to put out Christmas Morning. I took the parents into the kitchen and explained to them that we had more stuff from Santa for the family to hide until Christmas morning. We had the big Santa gift for each member along with several more gifts for each of them and stuffed Christmas Stockings for each of the family members (including mom and dad). I helped dad hide everything in their garage and covered it with a tarp. By this time he and his wife were fighting back the tears. We all exchanged hugs, I didn’t think John would ever let go of Santa. As we drove away, we were all silent for a few minutes and then we all started talking at once about what we could do next year. I turned to my wife and before I said a word, she looked at me and said, “We are going to have to start earlier and get a lot more donations next year because you know we can’t ever say “No” after tonight. The rest as they say is history. We have repeated this scenario every year since then delivering to between 2 and 4 families each of the past 20 years.