WIMAUMA — As a professional photographer, Dan Weisberg captures thousands of images. But it's a snapshot stuck in his mind that prompted him to reach out to migrant farm children in Wimauma.
Four years ago, Weisberg had a photography assignment at the Redlands Christian Migrant Association's Community Room in Wimauma. As the day wound down, the kids began to go home with their moms and dads.
"The parents came in to pick up their children, and you could tell they were so hard-working," said Weisberg. "The children of migrant workers lead a pretty difficult life. It's this great little corner of the world we don't see much of, and they need some basic things."
So, Weisberg began sponsoring a party for 35 of the neediest children at the center. Each year, they begin with a reading of 'Twas the Night Before Christmas. Santa Claus enters the room when they read about him coming down the chimney.
Organizers divide the kids into groups and rotate them through five stations. At each stop, they play games or work on crafts, including cards and gift bags for their parents.
At the end of the evening, Santa Claus presents gifts including sneakers and shirts for each child, books, gender-specific toys and board games that the entire family can play.
"After all the gifts are opened, we serve the children a dish of ice cream with sprinkles and whipped cream," Weisberg said.
"It is wonderful to see our donations and our caring reflected back to us in the smiles and laughter of the children, and the appreciation of their hard-working parents.
"The children end the program by singing Feliz Navidad to us, and we all get teary."
This year, Weisberg got a little teary before the event for entirely different reasons. The economic downturn dramatically impacted how much he and former sponsors could give.
He feared he couldn't buy the sneakers, ice cream or the toys. It didn't help that Weisberg finds it difficult to ask people for help.
"In past years, I sent out a blanket e-mail to friends," Weisberg said. "In these times, I didn't want to send an e-mail to people I knew were having a difficult struggle. It was a tough year to be asking for money."
But Weisberg didn't want to settle for less than he had delivered in the past.
So he reached out to the Children's Board of Hillsborough County and a few other companies, hoping to raise $1,000 to make up for the shortfall. Children's Board employees took money out of their own pockets to pay for the sneakers and the toys. Another company promised to provide the ice cream.
He combined those donations with gifts from return sponsors including Exeter International, Inkwood Books, Bess The Book Bus and former Java and Cream owner Dennis Cavanaugh, who plays Santa Claus.
"It's a testament to the community," Weisberg said. "They saw the struggle and were able to help out."
On Tuesday, the party will go off just like it did four years ago. The most exciting thrill for the kids likely will be receiving the gifts, but the most thrilling part for Weisberg involves more.
Remember the craft work? Weisberg photographs each child with Santa and immediately prints out the photo. The photo goes into a frame along with the handmade card.
On Christmas Day, the children give the photo to their parents, most of whom can't afford studio-quality pictures of their kids.
For a photographer whose home is full of family pictures, you understand why Weisberg says he does this every year simply because he can.
That's all I'm saying.