Jamie Sanders never knows how many volunteers will show up for the Santa & Friends event she organizes each year. On the day of, she just hopes for the best.
But the community never disappoints.
“When we started out a few years ago, we had a handful of friends,” Sanders said. “Last year, we ended up with 101 volunteers helping us.”
Sanders and her husband, Adam, have made it an annual tradition to dress up as Mr. and Mrs. Claus and give away stuffed animals to children in the local public housing neighborhoods.
“The people that are new (to the neighborhoods) are in shock. They have no idea what’s going on,” she said. “The ones that have lived there, we’ve seen several of them growing up through the years.”
Volunteers are asked to meet at 8:30 a.m. this Saturday in the parking lot of West Marine in Lanier Plaza in Brunswick. The group will depart, along with its truck-load of stuffed animals, at 9 a.m.
Six years ago, Sanders founded the Golden Isles Needs Network, which aims to help underprivileged families by giving them items they need. The not-for-profit ministry collects goods throughout the year to be donated to organizations like the Red Cross, Amity House or Safe Harbor when a family is in need.
At the end of the ministry’s first year, though, Sanders found that they had an abundance of stuffed animals leftover to be donated.
She saw an opportunity to spread a little Christmas cheer in Brunswick.
“I looked at my husband and I said, ‘You’re going to dress up as Santa Claus, and we’re going to go down to the public housing areas and we’re going to give all this away,’” Sanders said.
And for the past six years, for a few hours on the first Saturday of December, Sanders has invited volunteers to join in and help knock on doors and give away stuffed animals to the children living there.
“It’s really been good because it makes me realize that there’s so many people in the community that want to get out and help others, when they’re total strangers,” Sanders said.
This year, Santa & Friends volunteers will be the recipients of the VIP Outback party, and they will receive a free meal afterwards.
The event is open to volunteers of all ages, and Sanders asked that participants wear red, green or white. Santa hats and reindeer antlers are also encouraged.