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Santas needed nationwide to visit medically fragile, homebound kids

Secret Sleigh Project
Secret Sleigh Project

(NEW YORK) — An organization that brings Santa to homebound kids is in need of more jolly St. Nicks to spread Christmas cheer around the nation this year.

The Secret Sleigh project, started by Sarah Portillo and covered by ABC News last year, brings surprise Santa visits to medically fragile and homebound kids who cannot have the traditional Santa experience. Since last year, demand has nearly tripled, and as a result, there’s a serious Santa shortage.

“We have 148 new children [in addition to the dozens visited last year] to visit in various cities throughout the U.S, including requests from Costa Rica and Africa,” Portillo told ABC News of this year’s efforts. “We’ve had 85 Santas apply this year, but we need more.”

The Secret Sleigh project has already begun this year’s visits, with the first one taking place earlier this month. Terry Leahy, who volunteered as Santa that day, told ABC News this he’s been Santa for more than a decade and this is his second year with Secret Sleigh.

One of his most memorable visits with the organization, he said, was a girl who was both blind and partially deaf. “When we arrived, she was in mom’s arms and moving around, a little agitated. I started to talk to her in a low, deep voice and she calmed down a little. We sat on the couch when I put my key in her hand to let her feel it. Many of the kids are very tactual. The next thing I know is she has laid her head on my leg. “

He has a photo of that moment and calls it “his favorite.”

Portillo said the Santas are desperately needed in order to provide the magic of Christmas to a child who would not otherwise experience it. For some, this may be their only chance at ever meeting Santa.

“Many of our families’ children are on hospice this year, so we are prepared to visit with them and provide a day they wouldn’t otherwise have,” she said.

For one family, the wait was too long.

“We have also had a family who reached out to us for a Santa visit one day and three days later write to us to say that the child had passed away,” Portillo said. “Though it was not my child, it pushed me into sobs. I cannot imagine losing my child when planning a beautiful Christmas with a first-time Santa visit. It means so much to many of these families to have a chance at their child meeting Santa.”

The cut-off date for applications is Nov. 30. Santas are needed in:

*Richmond IN * Danfield IN * Ossian IN * Sepncer IN * Maineville OH * Brooklyn OH * Bowling Green OH * Brunswick OH * Jackson OH * Loudonville OH * Bloomfield NJ * El Paso TX * Conroe TX * Amarillo TX * Helotes TX * Humble TX * Alvarado TX * Fresno TX * Weaverville NC * Waynesville NC * Hubert NC * Wilkesboro NC * Raleigh NC * Cameron NC * Mocksville NC * Cornelius NC * Kingman AZ * Phoenix AZ * Surprise AZ * Peoria AZ * Eu Clair WI * Osh Kosh WI * Richland Center WI * Eagle River WI * Lehi UT * Chebanse IL * Pontiac IL * Cedar Rapids, IA * Merrimack NH * Denver CO * Fort Collins CO * Loveland CO * Colorado Springs CO * Pueblo CO * Peyton CO * Hudson CO * Talbott TN * Franklin TN * Winder GA * Las Vegas, NV * Laramie WY * Parker PA * Gettysburg PA * Media PA * Wellsville NY * Versailles MO * Louisiana * St. Pierrepart LA * Sioux City IA * Springfield MA * Fall River MA * Billings MT * Towanda KS * Bentonville AR

Interested parties should email secretsleigh@gmail.com for a short application.

“We are hoping to provide books this year for every family as we can,” Portillo said. “Some Santas are also giving out gifts. We are also taking help from music therapists, individuals to be Mrs. Claus and photographers who are willing to give of their time and talent for the families and our cause.”

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