Advertisement
  1. Things to Do

Sincerely Santa brightens holiday for underprivileged Hillsborough kids

Sylvia Moten and her husband, Pastor Rufus Moten of Tampa, browse through a binder of needy children’s “Letters to Santa” at the Sincerely Santa booth at the Westfield Brandon Town Center. 
Sylvia Moten and her husband, Pastor Rufus Moten of Tampa, browse through a binder of needy children’s “Letters to Santa” at the Sincerely Santa booth at the Westfield Brandon Town Center. 
Published Dec. 8, 2016

BRANDON — Sylvia Moten handed several folded bills to Nellie Taracido, who manned the Sincerely Santa booth with 16-year-old son Zachary in the Westfield Brandon adjacent to the Dillards entrance.

Sylvia's husband, Pastor Rufus Moten, soon followed suit.

When asked if they were familiar with the organization's mission the Tampa couple nodded in the negative, saying they simply assumed by the name it involves granting wishes to children at Christmastime.

"Every day when I wake up I ask God what he would have me do to be a blessing in someone else's life," the pastor said.

That is exactly what he and countless other Sincerely Santa donors have done to put smiles on the faces of more than 100,000 underprivileged and at-risk kindergarten through third grade students in Hillsborough County's public schools since the program's inception in 1987.

Without the public's generosity it's likely those youngsters would have no Christmas presents, according to Sincerely Santa President David Raasch, also a Hillsborough County Fire Department captain.

Every year teachers and social workers from the area's 159 elementary schools are tasked with determining the neediest of students from a myriad of individual handwritten "Letters to Santa."

In turn, those letters are placed in dozens of binders and put on display at the mall in the hope that shoppers will select one or more of the children's letters and purchase the items they've requested for Christmas. Gifts for their siblings, whose names and ages are included with the letters, may also be bought.

Unwrapped gifts can then be brought back to the booth for delivery to the children's homes by volunteer elves from the Hillsborough County Fire Department, Tampa Fire Rescue and the Temple Terrace Fire Department.

Raasch estimates 3,200 youngsters will be served this year. No child or sibling of a child whose letter was selected for the Sincerely Santa program will be forgotten.

Every year Toni Delregno of Temple Terrace makes it a priority to purchase Sincerely Santa gifts for at least one child and all of the child's siblings.

Although she has a son of her own, he has special needs and, with the exception of one toy she's given him, he doesn't show appreciation for Christmas gifts.

"It helps fill that void at Christmastime and I want these kids to think the presents came from Santa Claus," Delregno said.

Gifts not purchased by Dec. 18 will be bought on Dec. 20 at the Walmart Supercenter on East Brandon Boulevard by fire rescue personnel and other Sincerely Santa volunteers.

Raasch remembers receiving plenty of Christmas gifts as a child, but when he began responding to fires and other emergencies in homes throughout the county it opened his eyes to a side of life he'd never encountered.

He was taken aback by the high number of impoverished parents and grandparents simply struggling to keep a roof over their heads and food on their tables. Providing presents for their children at Christmastime is not an option.

"I wanted to give back for my good fortune and my department got behind me," said Raasch, who's been involved with the Sincerely Santa program for 23 years.

"It's really a team effort in that we've got the support of fire rescue administrative heads throughout the county," he added.

Dr. Debra Hoffman, a chiropractor with an office in Temple Terrace, serves as Sincerely Santa's treasurer. She came on board in 1998.

In her view, most adults are at their stations in life due to the choices they've made, but the same can't be said about children.

"It humbles you because some of these kids ask for blankets and shoes, basic needs, and it makes you realize that these kids really have and want for so little," Hoffman said.

Her thoughts clearly play out in a small sampling of the children's "Letters to Santa."

Simmel, 6, would like a necklace, a bracelet and a baby doll; Khari, 7, wants a pair of shoes, a book bag and a football helmet; and Joselin, 5, hopes for a pink Spider-Man shirt, a Spider-Man car, and food, especially fruit.

Contact Joyce McKenzie at hillsnews@tampabay.com.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

  1. Localtopia is St. Pete's largest “Community Celebration of All Things Local,” showcasing over 200 independent businesses and community organizations.
  2. The St. Petersburg Saturday Morning Market, beautiful landmarks like the Sunshine Skyway Bridge and public art all made it on the list of reader's reasons why they love Tampa Bay.
  3. Lisa Langford opened her artisan boutique, Lis's Pieces, in March of 2019 on Grand Boulevard in downtown New Port Richey. She recently expanded, remodeling an upper floor to use for crafting workshops. Future plans include using the space for small weddings and other intimate occasions, Langford said.
  4. Shannan Panganiban, 26, and her husband Heath Panganiban, 28, with their three boys, from left, Owen, 9 months old, ,Ryland, 5 (in center), and Landon, 3, in their backyard with their kayak racks at their home on Tuesday in St. Petersburg. Shannon and Heath started Yak Tribe, a national kayak fishing community, and now they have started a free kayak rental program with the pilot location being out of their backyard.
  5. Patron vie for beads while attending in the 103nd Gasparilla Invasion and Parade of the Pirates presented by Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla on Saturday, January 25, 2020, in downtown Tampa.
  6. Charlotte Flair is one of the WWE’s most decorated female competitors and daughter of wrestling legend “Nature Boy” Ric Flair.
  7. Kathryn Sharkey, 9, of Masarkytown, proves to have a swift hand in casting at the Family Fishing Festival held Jan, 18 at Withlacoochee River  Park in Dade City. Looking on, is her dad, Devon Sharkey (right).
  8. In this July 30, 2019, file photo, a Super Mario figure is displayed at a showroom in Tokyo. After months of being tight-lipped, Comcast executives on Thursday, Jan. 23, 2020, said the fourth park at Universal Orlando would be based on characters from Nintendo.
  9. Clockwise from left: Cheesy Sriracha Funnel Cake Bites, Piña Colada Candy Apple, Candy Corn and Cheeseburger-On-A-Stick
  10. Draped against the St. Petersburg skyline on Tuesday evening on January 14, 2020, the Bella Vita is visible as it docks in Port St. Pete. The yacht is nearly 250 feet long and costs about $650,000 to charter for a week in the winter, according to broker Moran Yacht and Ship. It can accommodate 12 passengers between its six staterooms and six decks, and a staff of 22.
  11. An Australian shepherd named Waylon gets some pampering from Kathryn Ross-Nash at the Florida Gulf Coast Classic Cluster of Dog Shows held Jan. 9-13 and Jan. 15-19 at Florida Classic Park in Brooksville.  Ross-Nash of Bradenton is an owner/breeder/handler of Australian shepherds and has been showing dogs for 30 years. "I love the show. Love the set-up, and I'm close to home," she said.
  12. Ava Calvin, 5, participates in a unity dance during the First Night of Kwanzaa in St. Petersburg ceremony on Thursday evening.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement