We all know him - the jolliest rock star of the holiday season - good old St. Nick. Dressed in red bearing a kind smile and warm heart, Santa represents genuine love, magic, and generosity. He encourages us to be kind, teaching that there are few things that bring more joy than the act of benevolent giving; he invites us to believe in something greater than ourselves.
In Suffield, there’s a group of “Santa’s Helpers” that have realized this very joy. Supplied with highlighters, folding maps and the spirit of the season, Stephanie Dolan, Leslie Marx, Becky Tobiasz and Katherine Lee are hard at work to carry on one of their town’s most beloved holiday traditions. Like a sports team huddled in a tight circle to strategize their next play, the group is focused and deliberate - after all, they have a very important job to complete.
As members of Friends of Suffield (FOS) - a volunteer non-profit organization committed to enriching Suffield and giving back to the community - they are entrusted with chauffeuring “Santa Suffield” around the community to visit the town’s youngest residents. As a precursor to Christmas, these personalized visits are a longstanding custom and for nearly two decades the group has welcomed Saint Nick to the community in early December.
“While Santa’s reindeer graze in the open fields of West Suffield, he trades in his sleigh for the weekend and we all take turns driving him to visit the children of Suffield,” says Katherine with a cheerful smile. “When you see these kids, it’s worth everything.”
Organizing Santa’s schedule for the second weekend in December is no easy task - not surprising they received a lot of requests. On the Saturday after Thanksgiving, the group posts a “Santa sign up” to their website. Suffield families are invited to fill out the form (first come, first served basis), indicating a day and time preference for Santa to make an in-home visit between December 8 - 10. The group says “reservations are processed at the North Pole and then returned to FOS for scheduling.”
That’s what the ladies are doing today, filing the hundreds of forms that each represent an eager family in the community. One by one they sift through the pile, creating a practical schedule based on geographic location and time requests. Beautiful, historic and HUGE, the Town of Suffield sprawls over nearly 43 square miles of land - organizing a cohesive route is a challenging assignment. But like Santa Claus himself, his helpers never disappoint.
They spend weeks preparing, not just filing request forms, but also creating profiles for individual stops. Each visit is personalized and Santa is “briefed” before each home to learn the names and ages of children who enthusiastically await his arrival. Each stop is different, some homes schedule visits as part of a large party whereas other residents could use the time for a quiet photo op with their newborn. In a quieter setting, Santa Suffield in-home visits have also been a wonderful opportunity for children with special needs or sensory processing disorders. The absence of long lines, loud crowds, and frenzied energy helps all families to experience the traditions of the season in their own way.
Like an assembly line, the ladies begin to make reindeer food for the upcoming season. As each scoops oats, glitter, and peppermint into individual bags, they begin to reminisce - smiling - about when Santa Suffield visited their own homes.
“My kids grew up having Santa Suffield come to our house,” says Becky. “They would practically jump out of their skin; it was such a wonderful milestone in their lives and for the families we visit. Now it’s my turn and I get to walk in with Santa - and it feels pretty cool to know him.”
“There are pancake breakfasts and trips to the mall, but to have Santa actually come visit your home before Christmas is totally awesome,” says Katherine.
“We always had Santa visit prior to Christmas,” says Leslie. “This is such an ingrained tradition and with all the things going on in the world it’s nice to focus on something positive - we’re helping to make happiness - and that’s a great feeling.”
“It’s my favorite thing to do. When you walk into the house and see how excited the kids get it’s amazing. I just love it,” says Stephanie.
Their purpose is pure, to simply spread joy and help facilitate meaningful holiday memories. While the program is free, they do graciously accept donations, all of which help support the FOS mission of bringing the community together to help those in need - something the organization has been doing for nearly 50 years. Funds from each of their annual events are given to groups and projects that benefit the Suffield community in the form of grants. Their signature event, Suffield on the Green, is held in September, which brings together community groups and businesses while featuring food vendors, a craft fair, bands, and entertainment. In February they celebrate Valentine’s Day with local seniors and in the spring FOS hosts an egg hunt for local families. No matter what the event, their ambition is to distribute funds back to the town. Their recipients are vast, with grants to organizations like the Kent Memorial Library Summer Reading Program, Scouting clubs, Friends of Hilltop Farm, Emergency Aid Association, and numerous sports teams (the list goes on).
Above all, the FOS is a close-knit group of residents, who have created meaningful bonds perpetuated through the power of giving. And while these are just four of the dozen members who participate in FOS, their positive energy is strong, created out of a close friendship and a love for their town.
“I love the feeling of giving back to people,” says Stephanie. “After many of our events we’re all exhausted - it’s a lot of work, but it’s so worth it.”
“It’s very rewarding, not to mention I have met my forever friends here,” adds Leslie.
Much like Santa Claus - the man of the month - Friends of Suffield represent what’s good in our world. They enhance the fun, are genuine and selflessly give to others. Their camaraderie is palpable.
“Friends of Suffield is a group of people that have the interest to help and are rewarded with the feelings associated with giving back,” explains Becky. “That’s the type of people who join and that’s why I’m a member.”
If you’re interested in joining Friends of Suffield volunteer group (or are a Suffield resident interested in Santa visits for next year) visit friendsofsuffield.org or facebook.com/FriendsOfSuffield