KENT CO, MICH — COVID-19 has impacted events for months and now its threatening a hundred-year-old Christmas tradition.
For the first time in their history, Santa Claus Girls of Kent County is saying that they likely won’t be able to give out gifts this year.
The non-profit made that announcement on Facebook Monday.
It’s a realization that Interim President, Maggie Moerdyke said is heartbreaking for them and the 13,000 children they serve in Kent County.
“We don’t know how we can do it for them,” she said.
Moerdyk said the pandemic is a huge factor in their decision to cancel.
“In the middle of COVID, with a volunteer force that is entirely Seniors with compromised immune systems, and drivers going to homes where they don’t know what’s going on behind the door when they knock,” she said.
The group is not only navigating COVID-19, but the building they were operating out of for free has been sold, so they have nowhere to call home.
Furniture maker Knoll Inc. closed their manufacturing plant in Kentwood this Spring, taking the Santa Claus Girls space with it.
“It’s impossible to run out of three storage trailers,” Moerdyk said.
All of this, comes at a time when the group is getting more requests than ever.
Moerdyk said, “With people who have now go from gone from furloughs to actually being unemployed, and the jobs not being out there for them. Some of them really do count on that pajama to get them through the winter and it’s not going to be there.”
In a normal year, Moerdyke said they’re able to make Christmas happen for thousands of families.
She said, “Every gift still has one piece of clothing, a wonderful scarf, hat, or mittens knitted by someone in the community, which is generously done, a book, and a toy, wrapped in paper with their name on it and delivered to their door.”
She added that it’s also a huge disappointment for their volunteers.
“All of us love to give back, even with our own needs, giving back is really what warms us up,” she said.
While she knows the chances are slim, Moerdyke is still holding out for a last-minute Christmas miracle.
She said ,”Santa Claus Girls has gone through so much in the past 100 years, and to think that this is what’s going to stop us, it’s hard - it’s very hard.”
If the group can find a building, Moerdyke said they’re considering a drive-thru model for families, so they don’t need to put their volunteers at risk.
The would need a minimum of 55, 000 sq. feet to allow for social distancing for their wrapping and packing stations.
You can contact the group at firstname.lastname@example.org