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Holiday Highlights

Kiwanis carries on Santa delivery tradition

12/12/2013 - South Side Leader
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By Kathleen Folkerth

Lily Wells accepted a gift from Santa during a past Portage Lakes Kiwanis Santa Delivery program.

Santa is shown riding his sleigh through the streets of Coventry during a previous Portage Lakes Kiwanis Santa Delivery program event.
Photos: Lew Stamp
COVENTRY/NEW FRANKLIN — For more than 60 years, families in the Portage Lakes area have been delighted to see a special guest in their neighborhoods on Christmas Eve, Dec. 24.

The Portage Lakes Kiwanis’ Santa Delivery program has brought smiles to the faces of children — and adults — in Coventry and New Franklin for 62 years.

“We’ve got our third generation of people now who are coming out to help us because they have such fond memories,” said Al Grzeschik, of Green, who is working to coordinate this year’s program with Connie Nagy, of Coventry.

Grzeschik said the program started with just one sleigh, one Santa and a small group of Kiwanis members.

“Kiwanis has always been about kids, and this is one of the things they started some 60 years ago,” he said.

Now there are 17 routes that feature Santa Claus arriving by sleigh in neighborhoods with gifts for children.

Residents who live in any of the 17 routes planned for the Dec. 24 event are invited to participate. To take part, they must drop off wrapped packages (no larger than a typical shoebox) through Dec. 20 at the Coventry Fire Department, FirstMerit Bank (Coventry and Manchester), Chase Bank (Manchester), PNC Bank (Coventry), Akron Coin & Jewelry, Ayers Insurance, Elias Insurance, Summit Printing, Triune Chiropractic and Innovative Auto Service. Packages also may be brought to the Kiwanis Civic Center, 725 Portage Lakes Drive, Dec. 21 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Grzeschik said in a typical year the Kiwanis delivers between 3,200 and 3,800 packages. He admits it’s a big job.

“There’s usually 200 to 300 people involved,” he said, adding the Summit County Sheriff’s Office and New Franklin Police Department offer assistance.

Drivers help pilot the antique sleighs that are used every year. And every Santa Claus is accompanied by a couple of elves that help him greet children and distribute gifts.

The Kiwanis members also put extra effort into the project by having additional age-appropriate gifts on hand in case families have an additional young guest visiting when the delivery is made.

Also, Kiwanis members reach out and offer to go the extra mile for children who for whatever reason may not be able to go outside to meet Santa in his sleigh, Grzeschik said.

Santa Delivery is meant for children, but the Kiwanis members also honor other requests for surprises, Grzeschik said.

“We’ve delivered things to soldiers, and last year we even delivered a solider,” he said. “We’ve been asked to deliver wedding rings, engagement rings and a couple of special occasions with animals. When we get into those, we have to make sure we have time and someone who can handle those.”

The Kiwanis accepts donations to help cover their costs for the Santa Delivery program. Envelopes are at the drop-off sites, and donations also can be given to the Kiwanis during Santa’s stop.

The group also raises money for Santa Delivery through its annual Kiwanis Rose Remembrance Day and Pirate Days.

Grzeschik said he usually helps coordinate packing up all the supplies used for the next year at the end of the evening, but this year he’s going to be a driver.

“You see some of the smiles on these kids faces and it’s a good feeling,” he said.

Grzeschik said anyone interested in volunteering for the event or with questions can contact him at 330-644-8967 or al@plkiwanis.org. For more information, go to www.plkiwanis.org.

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