The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

December 19, 2012

Project Santa: Christmas for kids in need

By James Neal, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — Dozens of local kids in need won’t have to go without gifts this Christmas, thanks to a collaborative effort between Youth and Family Services of North Central Oklahoma and the spouses and pilots of Vance Air Force Base’s 8th Flying Training Squadron.

Spouses and pilots from the 8th FTS came to Youth and Family Services Wednesday to sort through and deliver a room-full of packages and gift bags, destined for children of low-income families at local schools.

Shelby Hall, director of development at Youth and Family Services and wife of 8th FTS instructor pilot 1st Lt. Chris Hall, said Youth and Family Services school-based counselors identified low-income, local school kids who may not receive anything for Christmas.

“They have a really good idea of what the kids need and what’s going on at home, so we can get the right gifts and get the gifts to them in the most appropriate way possible,” she said.

The names of those children were placed on angels on Christmas trees in each of Vance’s squadrons. The 8th FTS coordinated collecting the gifts and bringing them to Youth and Family Services, and from there to the children’s schools.

“A lot of these kids have awful, sad stories, and this is just incredible for them,” Hall said.

She remembered two boys from last year’s Project Santa who broke down crying because it was the first time they ever had received a Christmas gift.

Her husband, Chris, said he and the other volunteers from Vance were motivated to help with Project Santa, to give back to local kids in need.

“It’s fun to interact with the community. They do a lot for us, and it’s good for us to return the favor,” he said. “We just wanted to help support the community, and this is a great time of year to volunteer.”

Fellow 8th FTS instructor pilot Capt. Mike Riggs agreed.

“The community is very supportive of the base, and it’s nice to give back when we can,” he said. “A lot of us are very busy, and any time we have a chance to come out and help the less fortunate, it’s a good feeling, especially during the holidays.”

The bulk of the work organizing and executing Project Santa fell to the spouses of the 8th FTS.

Sueanna Henderson, whose husband is an instructor pilot for the squadron, said the squadron’s pilots and spouses were eager to step up and help kids in the community.

“They all feel pretty passionate about helping kids,” Henderson said. “We have a hidden epidemic here in Enid of kids who are in homes, but still aren’t going to have any Christmas. We’ve got hard-working parents out there who still need help. More than anything, we wanted to help bring attention to the fact there are a lot of kids out there who are in need of services and help.”

Sascha Bauman, another spouse from the 8th FTS, said she participated in a similar program in Texas, and wanted to help out here in Enid.

“There are so many kids who don’t receive any gifts on Christmas, and that’s not fair to them,” Bauman said. “No child should have to be punished because of their socio-economic status. No child should have to go through that.”

She said she was heartbroken to read the kids’ Christmas wish lists and find most of them asked for simple, essential items like blankets, coats and shoes.

“It’s little things that we take for granted, and that’s what they want for Christmas,” Bauman said. “It just breaks my heart for kids to have to want something so simple.”

Joanna Moats, a school-based counselor for Youth and Family Services, said many kids in local schools would receive nothing for Christmas if not for programs like Project Santa.

“We get a lot of calls from families saying they’re not going to have much for Christmas, and this is a great opportunity for us to help those families,” Moats said.

She said the children don’t know ahead of time they’re receiving a Project Santa gift. She said the kids are elated when they receive their Christmas present.

“It’s wonderful just to see their faces,” she said. “They are so excited, some of them are crying because they’re so happy, and some of them are just beaming.”

Youth and Family Services executive director Dan Buckley thanked the 8th FTS and other donors from Vance for helping spread that kind of joy to local kids in need.

“Many of our clients don’t have the resources to enjoy Christmas the way most of us think of it,” he said, “so we appreciate Vance and the community allowing us to be a conduit for their generosity.”

Project Santa gifts will be distributed by Youth and Family Services school-based counselors today and Friday.