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Santa comes through for Nicole Colon, whose letter to the North Pole catches the attention of some Carrollwood postal workers.
By TIM GRANT, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 12, 2003
CARROLLWOOD -- As she walked home from school one day getting soaked in the pouring rain, 7-year-old Nicole Colon made a wish so big she thought only Santa Claus could make it come true.
In her letter to the North Pole she wrote:
"This year, Santa I wish for only one thing and that is a car for my Moma. Not a Barbie car, a real car . . . If you can't make a car, a nice raincoat would be nice."
She told Santa, "My Moma has to walk a lot to take my baby sister to the doctors and to take me to school. Sometimes it rains and she gets so wet. But she doesn't care as long as me and my sister are dry. Please help us."
Postal workers at the Carrollwood branch were so touched by her letter to Kris Kringle, they put the wheels in motion to line the Colon family up with a used automobile. And so it was that Santa made a special delivery at the Colons' Plantation home on Christmas Eve.
"It was a very emotional experience for everyone," said Bridget Robertson, customer relations manager for Tampa's post office system.
Letter carrier Jim Cantrell knew of a customer, Phyllis Lancaster, on his route who was selling a 1985 Honda Accord for $800. But after reading the one-page letter, Lancaster donated the car at no cost.
The postal workers raised another $550 to replace the clutch, buy two new tires and a muffler system. The labor was donated by Dale's Auto Service, and a new windshield was installed free by Glass Doctors.
Although Nicole did not ask Santa for any gifts, his helpers at the post office filled the backseat of the car with toys for her.
Nicole, who recently turned 8, said she was hopeful that Santa would come through.
"I knew Santa was big enough to do this if he had other people to help him," she said. "I feel really happy and excited. Now I get to ride in the car, and I love it. I can't get my eyes off it."
She said she made the Christmas wish to help her mother.
"Me and my sister are the only ones who have raincoats," Nicole said. "My mom doesn't have a raincoat, and she gets so wet, and it makes me sad."
The letter, although a long shot, reinforced the family's belief in miracles.
"My husband thought I was nuts for letting Nicole send that letter," said Madeline Colon, 33. "I thought they threw those letters away. But I didn't want to kill Nicole's spirit. I could hear Oprah say 'don't kill her spirit.' "
Postal worker Daphne McClellan has seen thousands of Santa's letters over the years.
"Some are funny," she said. "Some are really cute, and some are very touching. I've cried on some of them where the children will ask Santa if he can make their sick mom better.
Although some children receive form letters in return, "this one was really touching," McClellan said. "She was asking Santa to give her mom a real car, not a Barbie car. And all she wanted was a raincoat if she couldn't get a car."
The Colon family had only one car, a 1980 Datsun. Nicole's father, Candido, 34, drives that car to his job in Oldsmar, where he works as a fiberglass technician.
"We get stalled everywhere," Mrs. Colon said. "It's an old beat up car."
Life without a car in the suburbs is difficult, to say the least.
Nicole's school, Cannella Elementary, is a mile from their home. That meant Mrs. Colon had to walk 2 miles, round trip, twice a day to get Nicole to and from school, while pushing her 11-month-old daughter, Caitlynn, in a baby carriage.
While recovering from her C-section delivery, Mrs. Colon had to walk 6 miles each time Caitlynn needed to see the pediatrician.
All of this happened in Florida's unpredictable tropical climate. Mrs. Colon devised games to play when it rained. "We would play jump in the puddles and try to splash each other," she said.
"In the summer it was fun. But it got cooler and when it rained, it wasn't as much fun anymore. No matter how hard I tried, Nicole knew it wasn't good. She could see it in my eyes."
The weather also affected Nicole's school attendance. Mrs. Colon said Nicole would be late for school some days because they had to wait for the rain to stop. Six of the eight school days Nicole has missed this year were due to rain.
"We had such a bad year," Mrs. Colon said. "I felt like we won the Lotto that day they came here with the car. We would have been happy with just a raincoat."
-- Tim Grant can be reached at (813) 269-5311 or at firstname.lastname@example.org .