Community editor and columnist Kris Capps is a longtime resident of Fairbanks and Denali Park. Contact her at kcapps@newsminer.com, in the office at 459-7546 or by cell at 322-6334. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMKris.

Santa’s Helpers are gearing up for another year of helping families in need during this holiday season. Toys for Tots, the Marine Corps Reserve program and many other local businesses and community residents are also helping.

With just $9,000 in the bank so far, organizers are hoping to collect $40,000 to $50,000 for this season’s program. But this year, instead of borrowing money to accommodate every family on the list, the organization will only provide as many food boxes as they can afford. Last year, 275 families received food/gift boxes, but had to borrow money to pay for enough food boxes to meet that need.

The organization was created in 2014 to continue what used to be Santa’s Clearinghouse. The mission is the same — to help families in need.

Referrals of specific families in need will be accepted beginning Dec. 2. Call 978-5995. To get things rolling, anyone interested in volunteering is invited to an initial volunteer meeting at 5:30 p.m. on Friday at Fairbanks Nissan.

Every year hundreds of dedicated volunteers work together to pack food boxes and gift boxes which are then delivered by volunteer drivers.

Thanks to participation by Toys for Tots, Santa’s Helpers is confident there will be plenty of toys for children on the list. But raising funds for the food bill is always challenging and stressful.

At least one change should lift some of that stress from volunteers. The whole addressing system has been digitized to make delivery more efficient, easier and faster.

“I’m all about saving volunteers time, trying to keep them from being so stressed out,” said Bill Hunt, who spearheads the annual program.

Fundraising remains the top priority. Santa’s Helpers currently has $9,000 for this year. It hopes to raise $40,000 or $50,000.

“We’re looking for companies,” Hunt said. “If people donate, we’ll match that donation.”

“You know, my goal with this operation is to keep it going for 60 to 100 years,” Hunt said. “I want to find a company that will fit into our scheme and will be there to take it over.”

Santa’s Helpers intends to buy 18,000 pounds of food and help as many as 350 families, if enough funds are raised.

Donate to Santa’s Helpers through the North Star Community Foundation at www.nscfundalaska.org. Or you can mail a check to Santa’s Helpers, P.O. Box 57009, North Pole, AK 99705.

Meanwhile, Toys for Tots has 21 locations in Fairbanks where people can donate toys, which will be included in the Santa’s Helpers gift boxes. Locations include Home Depot, MAC Federal Credit Union (all three locations), Doyon Utilities, REI, Dominos Pizza, Laborer’s International Union of North America, Beaver Sports, Toy Quest, Fred Meyer East and West, Fort Wainwright garrison headquarters, Vet Center, Carlson Center, UAF, Fairbanks Police Department, USO Fort Wainwright, Santa Claus House, Pioneer Park and Alaska Native Gift Shop at Morris Thompson Center.

Toys for Tots cannot accept realistic-looking weapon toys, but all other toys, games, books, model/science/robotics/plant-growing kits, puzzles, youth sporting equipment like gloves, bats and balls will be accepted. Unopened packs of batteries to pair with toys requiring batteries are also accepted.

Reach columnist/community editor Kris Capps at kcapps@newsminer.com. Call her at the office 459-7546. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMKris.

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