Or at least, it’s the best that I’ve been a part of and its my favorite program at my library.Every year in December our library brings Santa to our library and we give away around 400 teddy bears and books to about 400 children in our community. This is one of my favorite things that I have ever been a part of in a library. I wish I had come up with this program but it was going on many years before I came to managing this library. Anyway, I tweeted and FBed some pictures and a couple of people asked about the details of this program so I thought I write a little more about it.
First of all, our library is located in a community called East Palo Alto in California. EAST Palo Alto is much different than Palo Alto and that little word “East” makes all the difference. While Palo Alto benefits from the tech boom and internet industry, East Palo Alto benefits from those tech folks shopping at the Home Depot and Ikea that are located in this city. The community was the murder capital of the Nation in the 90s (the film Dangerous Minds was supposedly filmed about a high school here and is why there currently no high school here and still maintains a lot of that aura but is a very different community now. In fact, I have never worked in a community that I have loved more.
Although this community is doing a lot to improve it’s self there is still a level of very low income families struggling here and our Santa In the Library Program is the only Christmas that many of these children will get. Here is how we do it:
First, we have our Santa who is actually Jewish but loves the whole spirit of giving and loves being able to give out presents to children. He has been doing this for about 7 years here.
Next, we partnered with the City of EPA (we are a county Library) and our local grocery store, Mi Pueblo, who each provide $100.00 for refreshments in the form of Hot Chocolate and Pastries. One of our staff members makes Mexican hot chocolate from the supplies from Mi Pueblo and it is AMAZING!
We also partnered with our County Probation Department who usually supply us with the Teddy Bears. The teddy bears typically are made by incarcerated women as part of a work program and we get them for free. This year though, due to budget cuts, they couldn’t provide them and some great people in Portola Valley (spearheaded by the Mayor) got us the teddy bears just in time! I would almost say it was a Christmas miracle, but really, it was the hard work of the residents of Portola Valley. Overall, this program costs about $300 and the library doesn’t really pay for any of it at all! It’s all staffed by volunteers and the money and teddy bears and books are all donated.
We send out tons of flyers and press releases to everyone we can think of and include invitations’ to local dignitaries and politicians. We’ve had some great people come and help out and its made the program even more successful.
We start giving out the tickets about two hours early and there is almost always a line that forms by then. The tickets are number 1-400 (that’s how many bears we have) and each batch of 100 corresponds to a time frame. For example, tickets numbered 1-100 correspond to 5-5:30 and that way people know that they can leave and come back by 5 and get in to see Santa. This also keeps the lines and numbers of people outside waiting to a minimum.
While people are waiting we give out the refreshments and have the kids do an arts and crafts project in our community room that is run by staff and supplemented by volunteers. This helps keep the youngsters busy while they wait and they have something else to take with them at the end of the program. What is super cute is the number of kids that make a card for Santa while they wait and give it to him when they get in to the library to see him.
We call in groups of kids with their families in smaller groups of 10-15 (by ticket number) to see Santa. They get to sit on Santa’s lap and the families take pictures and then they get their Teddy Bear and Book from Santa’s helpers.
That’s it! It’s really super easy and one of the more meaningful programs we do each year.