Help give Santa a hand

Published 8:54 pm Wednesday, November 28, 2012

As it is for Santa, whose snow-covered boots he has helped fill in one capacity or another since the 1980s, this is a busy time of year for Suffolk resident John Woleben.

In truth, however, Woleben spends a good portion of each year in the role of chief Suffolk elf to jolly old St. Nick. As the coordinator for Suffolk’s Toys for Tots drive, his work is spread across the calendar, and it only moves into hyperdrive in November and December.

During the months when Christmas is just a fond memory for most folks, Woleben is busy attending toy shows, setting up orders for large shipments of goodies and coordinating with the local unit of the Salvation Army to make sure that even the poorest children in Suffolk will find new toys on Christmas morning.

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As the calendar turns its last page of the year, though, things get especially busy. There are collection boxes to place and then empty of donated toys, monetary donations to accept, last-minute shopping trips to complete, emergency toy requests to honor and preparations to make for the annual “shopping” event for those who have signed up for assistance through the Salvation Army. It’s not unusual for Woleben to spend part of Christmas Eve delivering toys in a loaner van to families that suddenly found themselves unable for one reason or another to buy toys for their children.

There are few people who look less like Santa Claus than the wiry, clean-shaven Woleben, but in Suffolk there is nobody with as much experience playing the part. And it’s unlikely there is anybody whose gentle spirit and sense of compassion for those less fortunate comes as close as Woleben’s to the heart of good St. Nicholas.

You might not be able to match Woleben’s commitment to help ensure that all of the children of Suffolk receive toys for Christmas, but you can still help. The Suffolk News-Herald’s Cheer Fund raises money for Suffolk’s Toys for Tots, which annually provides toys to thousands of children who otherwise may not have anything under the tree on Christmas Day. Last year’s total raised — $34,412.35 — provided toys for 4,655 local children.

To donate to the Cheer Fund, send a check to P.O. Box 1220, Suffolk, VA 23439 or bring it to our office, 130 S. Saratoga St., from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

We will list your donation in the newspaper, but it can be marked “anonymous” if you like. Donations may be made in honor of or in memory of someone. If you bring the check to our office, we’ll even take your picture as you hand it to one of our staff.

This year, help John Woleben give Santa a hand. Please donate to the Cheer Fund. For more information, call 934-9616.