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By ERNEST HOOPER, Times Staff Writer
Published November 30, 2007
Jeff and Linn Hanson and Bob and Jennifer Hamme sat in the Westfield Brandon mall Tuesday with a stack full of dreams, longing for dream makers to approach.
The Sun City Center couples manned the Sincerely, Santa table at the mall, cherishing each heartfelt, kid-written letter and imagining what pains might exist behind the phonetic spellings and occasional bad grammar.
Dear Santa, Can you bring me a bike because somebody tuck my bike?
Dear Santa, I want some new shoes because I barely have some.
Letters come from at-risk Hillsborough schoolchildren ranging from kindergarten to third grade. Now in its 20th year, the Sincerely, Santa program allows folks to take a letter and purchase gifts to match the letter. When applicable, letters list siblings who would appreciate a toy.
Sincerely, Santa has provided donated toys and clothing for more than 100,000 at-risk kids since 1987.
WestShore location dropped
But matching the success of previous years will be a little more difficult this holiday season. In past years, folks could get letters at WestShore Plaza or Westfield Brandon. This season, only the Brandon mall has the letters. Complications resulting from Tampa Police Department budget cuts prevented organizers from having a location at WestShore.
The letters provide an opportunity for anyone who wants to give instead of just receive. On Tuesday, a Cub Scout den mother gathered eight letters for the eight boys in her troop. A lot of parents use the letters to heighten their own kids' appreciation. Businesses, churches and other civic groups choose to sponsor kids.
What Jeff Hanson finds most inspiring are young mall workers who sponsor a letter. He's encouraged that young people not only display giving souls, but are meticulous in fulfilling the wishes.
Equally impressive are folks who look like they should be on the receiving end of such generosity, yetchoose to help others.
Sponsors return the gifts to the mall, and local police, sheriff's deputies and firefighters deliver them in time for Christmas, often volunteering to drop off packages on Christmas Eve.
The program inspires the Hansons and the Hammes to volunteer their time at the mall. They draw inspiration from the generosity of others and hope from the optimism of the children.
But, frankly, they weren't nearly as busy as they should have been when I spoke to them at the booth in front of the Books-A-Million in the mall's new wing.
Make you weep ... or laugh
Some letters are heart-wrenching. Linn Hanson said she still remembers the little girl four years ago who wanted "my own bed." She had six siblings.
Others inspire with intentional and unintentional humor.
This year, one girl had a request that could only make you chuckle.
Santa: I love you. Can you please give me a Bible. I also would like a fake police badge and a pet goldfish.
A Bible, a fake police badge and a pet goldfish? It sounds like a joke Johnny Carson would tell as Carnac the Magnificent.
Others just make you laugh because of the spelling. A young boy, proclaiming to be good at math, asked for a "cacyoulater."
And of course, there are the more poignant letters, like the young boy who asks for new clothes because he needs underwear and a new jacket for winter.
Whether it's Sincerely, Santa, a food bank or some other charitable effort, this is a year where the housing tsunami, rising property taxes and job layoffs have left more people in need. I told a Sincerely, Santa official that the Brandon community has a big heart and will step up to the plate to help fill the void. I hope I'm right.
That's all I'm saying.
Location: Westfield Brandon mall in front of Books-A-Million
Concept: "Adopt" a child's letter and then match the gifts being requested
Donations: The organization also accepts cash and in-kind donations to fill gift requests.
Contact: (813) 417-1226
[Last modified November 29, 2007, 20:44:49]