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Seeking Santas: Answering kids letters ‘a beautiful thing’

Principal Dr. Santos Gomez pre-school teacher IrmToranzo display some Christmas gifts donated by readers Chicago Sun-Times letters SantDavis Elementary School

Principal Dr. Santos Gomez and pre-school teacher Irma Toranzo display some Christmas gifts donated by readers of the Chicago Sun-Times letters to Santa at Davis Elementary School on Wednesday, December 3, 2012. I ~Sun-Times

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Updated: January 7, 2013 7:17AM

At Davis Elementary School in Brighton Park, the younger kids will tell you to forget that stuff about Santa coming down the chimney on Christmas Eve.

The jolly old man himself, they’ll tell you, has a workshop at Davis, 3914 W. 39th. On the day before Christmas break, he sits in that decked-out classroom, awaiting each kid with presents, courtesy of readers of the Chicago Sun-Times — er, I mean elves.

“We transform it into Santa’s workshop, a big fireplace in the corner, giant candy and Santa in his big chair with all the gifts,” Principal Santos Gomez said.

Davis’ student population is 98 percent low-income, and it’s among dozens of city schools, social-service agencies, homeless shelters and other nonprofits that forwarded 10,638 needy children’s Letters to Santa this year.

Those letters were sent via the Sun-Times Season of Sharing program, which is seeking readers willing to help out kids at Davis and elsewhere by answering the letters. You just purchase a gift in the $25 range or donate to our Empty Stocking Fund.

This year, the program received 364 letters from preschool through first-grade students at Davis. Legend there has it that Gomez sat in for a sick Santa one year and was outed by a keen first-grader insisting that Santa was wearing the principal’s very distinctive watch.

“I told him Santa had just borrowed it. I don’t think he bought it,” Gomez said.

Last year, more than 2,300 individuals and local businesses helped deliver the Christmas wishes of 12,572 children. This year, you’ve already responded to thousands of letters. But hundreds more letters wait to be matched with a Santa.

At Davis, preschool teacher Irma Toranzo has coordinated the program for six years. Very early in the semester, she starts helping students write letters, reviews them and then forwards them to Santa. Then she sorts and stores the gifts from Santas.

“I absolutely love doing it. It’s a beautiful thing,” she said.

“We’ll get one or two a day, then most of the presents arrive in the last two weeks. The day we hand them out, it is the greatest experience seeing the faces of the kids, because for most of them, this is the only gift they’ll receive,” she said. “Sometimes there are tears. And for many of our parents, it’s a big help because they now have something to put under the tree for the child to open, and they are so grateful.”

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