One man continues his mission to spread Christmas joy

For the third year in a row, Santa Claus is making a special visit to Hilltop this holiday season, offering free toys and free photos with the Jolly Old Elf (a welcome option to the pricey photos with Santa at the mall). On Dec. 7 and 8 he’ll be at the Basket Nook, 1007 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., and on Dec. 22 he’ll be at Sam and Terry’s Barber Shop, 1110 S. 11th St., from noon to 4 p.m. Bring your own camera and take as many photos as you like. Good little boys and girls are invited to come and sit on Santa’s lap and tell him their Christmas wishes, and in exchange Santa will give each child a brand new wrapped present and a tasty candy cane – thanks to the generosity of Tacoma businesswoman Dawnie Wood, owner of Dawnie Wood's Automotive Restoration Parts at 455 St. Helens Ave. (Ste. D). In 2010 longtime Hilltop resident Tom Reynolds was inspired to don a Santa suit to give children and their parents/caregivers Christmas cheer free of charge – a real blessing to families whose funds may be tighter than ever this time of year.

“I will do this for however long the man upstairs lets me,” Reynolds said. “It’s the reason for the season. Without God there would be no Christmas. That’s the way I’ll always feel, so it’s probably my calling to do this.” With his real whiskers and bright, new Santa outfit he fits the part perfectly. Reynolds said he also wants to assure the children that there are people out in the broader community who love them and want them to have a Merry Christmas. This is why he spends the bulk of the year planning for his December role as Santa – that and for the chance to experience the joy of helping others. “It’s the gratification of seeing the smiles on the kids and the parents’ thankfulness.” Last year, and again this year, Wood stepped forward to help Reynolds with his merry mission by purchasing 500 toys with her own money, then gathering up her friends and family for a wrapping party after Thanksgiving, again at her own expense. She has also donated 600 candy canes and a $100 gift card to Toys R Us that will be raffled. Reynolds said Wood’s spirit of giving makes his efforts have far more of an impact on the little ones whose faces light up when they see that Santa has presents for them.

Reynolds starts networking and organizing for his Santa appearances about 10 months in advance of the holiday season, starting with letters of invitation to philanthropists, sports figures, celebrities and political leaders locally and across the country – from President Barack Obama and the First Lady, to Oprah Winfrey, Mayor Marilyn Strickland and Gov. Christine Gregoire, and teams like Seattle Sounders and Seahawks. The goal is to attract attention to the efforts of Tacoma’s Hilltop Santa and hopefully score a visit by some noteworthy people. This year Reynolds received a big surprise when a hand-signed letter arrived to him from First Lady Michelle Obama. While she will not be able to pay a visit this year, she sent him words of encouragement: “Thank you so much for the commitment you have shown to your community. Our strength as a country and our ability to responsibly shape our future depends on passionate Americans who dedicate themselves to improving their home communities. Your example of service shows once again that each of us can make a difference for those around us. Thank you again for all that you do.”

Another pleasant surprise came when Gov. Christine Gregoire’s office wrote back saying the governor could not attend, but that her South Puget Sound representative Veronica Marohn will be there on her behalf. Reynolds says he’s already laying plans for next year, when he will expand his outreach. “I’m going to, Lord enabling me, to have food boxes for 40-50 families. I’ll have toys too, thanks to Dawnie. Families need this – some dads don’t have jobs and some moms don’t either, and kids have to have something to show them, ‘Don’t turn around and look behind you; you need to go forward and don’t ever look backwards.’” He’s also looking to do a winter coat/hat/gloves drive next year and perhaps find one particularly deserving family to take shopping for winter clothing and such. Those who’d like to help out with donations or any other assistance are invited to tell Santa about it in person at his upcoming appearances.

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