In our effort to create NEPA’s most comprehensive nonprofit directory, we came across hundreds of amazing organizations. Naturally, we wanted to share their inspiring stories.
In this series, we aim to highlight the hard-working organizations, the good people, the selfless volunteers, the helpers, the healers, the listeners, the comforters and all the great work they do. We hope that, through these stories, you too will be inspired to lend your time, your hands and your hearts. Follow along as we take a look beyond the mission statement.
Legacy Of Spreading Holiday Cheer Marks 40th Year
In 1984, Valley Santa embarked on a humble mission: to ensure that no child in Luzerne County awoke on Christmas morning without a gift under the tree from Santa Claus. That inaugural year, three hundred children received a personalized present thanks to the nonprofit.
Forty years later, the Borland family, who spearheaded the formation of the nonprofit, along with the hundreds of dedicated volunteers that help Valley Santa run season after season, continue to deliver on the goal of bringing joy to children during the holidays.
A Family Tradition
For Sarah Borland, Christmas just wouldn’t be the same without Valley Santa.
Just two years old when her parents’ recognized the local need for an organization to help support families who were unable to provide gifts to their children during the Christmas season, November 1 marks the start of Sarah’s holiday season annually.
By age six, she recalls wrapping gifts with her Brownie Troop. At just eight years old, she was alphabetizing and organizing the letter requests sent in asking for help. By high school, she was up early shopping for gifts before class. And despite going away for college and living in New York City for over a decade, she always made it home to help.
Today, along with her brother Joe, mother Ruth and father Kim, the family tradition continues. Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning beginning November 1 through December 24, you’ll find the family and dedicated volunteers at Boscov’s in Wilkes-Barre shopping for personalized gifts to match the interests of the children on the receiving end of the community’s generosity.
But for all the good the group is doing, Sarah emphasizes it is the parents’ who love their children enough to ask for help, the partner nonprofits that refer children, and the community that donates their time and money that allows this group to continue to stand in as Santa’s helpers for the youngest among us.
“It really is individuals giving their time and whatever money they have to make sure that on Christmas Day the Valley rings with children’s laughter and not disappointment. It’s not about any individual person. It really is about the whole,” says Sarah.
Dignified Support for Loving Parents
Asking for help can be incredibly difficult.
But Valley Santa’s goal is to provide a safe place for families to ask for assistance without shame. There are no lines to wait in. No financial forms to fill out. Rather, caregivers, or even a teacher or neighbor, can discretely write a letter to the group asking for support for children newborn through 12 years old. And just like Santa’s elves, local volunteers get to work choosing a gift specific to each child’s interests. They also receive a book, a new addition Sara implemented six years ago. Finally, the package arrives on the family’s doorstep in an unmarked brown cardboard box.
“Every letter to me is a parent saying, my kids are more important than my pride,” says Sarah. “My kids are more important than anything else. I give so much honor and credit to parents who reach out for help. Because it’s hard. And those who do, it shows they love their kids. We try to make it as easy as possible for them and making it so the parents are really the ones providing the presents.”
Thanks to detailed record keeping to ensure children never receive the same gift or book twice, the organization finds that only one-third of families return year-over-year to Valley Santa. But with a downward spiraling economy, they do anticipate a larger number of families in need this year.
“We think of Valley Santa as kind of a stopgap,” emphasizes Sarah. “But so many are just one unplanned expense away from not being able to afford gifts. I think most people think they’re going to be able to provide Christmas. But someone loses their job. The check doesn’t come. The rent goes up. No one should live a life where a car breaking down means no Christmas. Or a trip to urgent care means no Christmas. That should not be how we live. But it is. So, then they reach out to us and we provide the Christmas that they want to give their children.”
Community Rallies Time and Again
What started as a grassroots, volunteer-based organization, continues to thrive thanks to the community.
The Valley With The Heart, which inspired their moniker, has shown up year after year to give. Local businesses take it upon themselves to host fundraising events to benefit the children of our community. Boscov’s, the landmark downtown Wilkes-Barre business, has been there from the start, offering discounts and turning an entire section of their store into Santa’s wrapping station. And the community. They generously open their wallets to make donations and show up by the hundreds to read the heartfelt letters, shop for personalized gifts, wrap and ship presents, and gather on Christmas Eve to delivery last-minute gifts so no child feels forgotten on December 25.
“I really truly believe we are a community organization,” Sarah says. “And we exist here because of our community. I think Luzerne County and the Valley is a very special place and it shows because we flourish. I don’t think we could be everywhere. I think, uniquely, Luzerne County really helps us.”
Thanks to their relationship with area nonprofits, the group has continued to grow its reach and awareness.
Partnerships with groups like the Hazleton Integration Project has seen them expand to the southern portion of the county. An invaluable resource continues to be Family Service Association Help Line. Anyone can contact them by dialing 211 to ask for Valley Santa’s help with presents, including receiving emergency gifts on Christmas Day, as well as to coordinate volunteer services.
They continue to work with the Domestic Violence Center, McGlynn Center, Luzerne County Head Start Program, Children’s Service Center, and YMCA, among many others, with the goal of connecting with every child in need of a gift this holiday, whether they celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or need a birthday gift to hold onto for the future. They operate in November and December, but their mission is about more than just this one holiday. It’s more than a toy. Or a book. Or a stuffed animal. It’s the spirit of Christmas and a child feeling seen.
“We have food insecurity and housing insecurity, and with all these other problems that we’re facing, presents kind of seem frivolous,” she says. “But they’re not. It’s not about the material things. It’s about children knowing that they’re heard and listened to and recognized. That feeling that someone thought of you, it stays with you. That’s what we give them.”
Connect With Valley Santa
Sara says her ultimate goal for Valley Santa is that everyone who needs a present, receives a present.
“Hopefully we could be a little part of making sure they have Christmas,” she says. If your family or a family you know is in need of help this holiday, Valley Santa is just a letter or call away.
There is no deadline for guaranteed Christmas delivery. Of course, keep in mind the delay in mail service. Gifts will be delivered until December 24 with emergency gifts available through Help Line at 211 on December 25. No request is denied. If you sent a letter and didn’t receive a gift, contact Help Line for assistance.
Letters and donations can be mailed to:
Valley Santa Inc.
P.O. Box 5276
Wilkes-Barre, PA 18711
Upcoming Events to Benefit Valley Santa
Connect with Valley Santa
Visit Valley Santa’s website to learn more about their mission, information on seeking holiday gift assistance, as well as opportunities to volunteer and donate.