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Putting out a call for a helping hand

Kindergartner Karime Demenech Charles Hammond Elementary School 2819 W. 21st Place with her art work  SantWednesday November 23 2011.

Kindergartner Karime Demenech at Charles Hammond Elementary School, 2819 W. 21st Place, with her art work to Santa, Wednesday, November 23, 2011. | John H. White~Chicago Sun-Times.

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How to help

Request a child’s letter at, or e-mail or call (773) 890-7373.

Donate money by going to or by sending a check or money order made out to Chicago Sun-Times Charity Trust to: Sun-Times Season of Sharing, P.O. Box 3596, Chicago, IL 60654.

Updated: December 28, 2011 9:53AM

About three weeks from now, the students at Charles Hammond Elementary School near California and Cermak will gather in the auditorium for the annual holiday assembly where each class takes a turn performing some seasonal-related skit, song or dance.

Then, if tradition holds, Santa Claus will emerge magically from his holding area in the engine room behind the stage curtain, ringing a bell and saying his “Ho-ho-hos.”

Now listen, because this is where you figure into the show. To paraphrase a certain movie character, I don’t want Santa coming out of that engine room with just his bell in his hands, all right?

I want somebody good, and I mean very good, to help make sure that when Santa steps out there in front of all those wide-eyed kids, he does so with the complete confidence that only comes with having a little something for each of them tucked away somewhere out of sight — namely a present.

The last thing you want is a flustered Santa telling the kids — as he did last year — that he’s got the sleigh and reindeer waiting in the school parking lot, when every kindergartner knew they were up on the roof.

Santa doesn’t make a personal appearance at each school or social service agency served by the Chicago Sun-Times’ Season of Sharing Letters to Santa program, but the goal is the same: Making sure every kid gets a little something for Christmas.

I’ve been beating the drum for this program for many years now, and I do so gladly, having seen the results up close.

There are many, many worthy holiday charities out there, I realize, but this is ours, and we rely greatly on the generosity of our readers to make it work.

By the way, I was just kidding about needing someone very good. Well-intentioned will do the trick.

You start by requesting a child’s letter to Santa. For instructions, check the How to Help box on this page. But let me emphasize in advance the trick is that you not only need to buy and wrap a gift for that child but also make sure it is delivered to their school on time.

In this manner, the program hopes to serve more than 13,000 kids this year, as it did last year.

I sat down with a delightful group of the intended recipients last week in Josefina Almanza’s kindergarten class at Hammond school, which is near California and Cermak in the Little Village neighborhood.

The kids and I got to talking about Santa Claus, which I learned is a good way to lose control of an enthusiastic group of 5- and 6-year-olds if you don’t know what you’re doing. Thankfully, Ms. Almanza stepped in with a reminder of “criss-cross applesauce, hands on the lap” to restore order.

This segued nicely into a conversation about being on their best behavior during the Christmas season to impress Santa.

“Santa picks the good ones from the bad ones,” observed Karime Demenech, displaying an especially strong understanding of all her Santa concepts.

“The bad ones get nothing,” added Nehemiah Mercado.

“No,” corrected Karime, “the bad ones get something. It’s called coal.”

Karime, who also drew a fine Christmas picture and sounded out some words to write her own caption, told me she doesn’t have any brothers and sisters at home, at least not in the usual sense.

“I have a dog, Peanut, but he’s my brother,” Karime said.

“My mom has 61 kids,” Nehemiah chimed in off-handedly.

“Sixty-one? That’s a lot of kids,” came a skeptical young voice at the next table.

Nehemiah shrugged.

Mya Gomez, who has a twin sister, Amy, grasped the most important concept of all about Santa Claus.

“Santa needs help,” Mya said.

That’s a fact. Lots of help.

It’s a fact Santa grew to appreciate more than ever last year while sitting in a classroom at the school and passing out presents purchased by Sun-Times readers — taking the plaudits for their good deeds but also carrying the burden of the possibility some child might get left out.

If you can, please help lighten Santa’s load again this year.

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