Christmas Eve and Santa Claus may come just once a year, but in Townsend, Santa comes in multiples ... at least between 5 and 8 p.m. on Christmas Eve.
Santa may have been an office manager, a police officer, a bus driver, a technical support representative or a salesman. He might have been short or tall. He may have arrived in a pick-up truck or a pleasure car.
What the eight Santas who delivered gifts, provided by families to 420 children at 116 Townsend addresses, had in common was their affiliation with the Townsend VFW Post 6538 and its Ladies Auxiliary Santa Claus Program. All were volunteers, as were the other 26 behind-the-scenes workers, who also gave up their own Christmas Eve to make this program for the children of Townsend run smoothly.
Community service projects and activities for young people are carried out on a regular basis by the Townsend VFW and its Ladies Auxiliary. The Townsend VFW Christmas Eve Santa Claus Program has been in existence for 35 years.
It requires many hours of planning over a couple of months for everything to fall into place on Christmas Eve. The details of the program first have to be made known to the parents and grandparents of Townsend through a typed, form letter, which is mailed to all Townsend and West Townsend postal patrons and via newspaper articles.
The VFW Function Hall has to be reserved for a gift drop-off on a particular afternoon. Once the drop-off day arrives, representatives of the VFW and its Ladies Auxiliary ensure that the gifts are properly tagged with the child's full name, age and address as well as information about other children and pets who will be there. (Santa is naturally expected to know specific information about all boys and girls and their pets.) Names of children receiving gifts are carefully logged and the gifts are placed in bags by street.
When the gifts are all in, the real job begins. Armed with the knowledge of how many different residences need to be visited, and how many visits one man can make within a three-hour period, and a good Townsend street map -- the Santa routing is worked out on paper.
Once the number of routes needed is established, the recruiting of Santas and drivers begins. When enough people have volunteered for these positions so that the routing as done on paper is assured, all the gifts are sorted through and properly packed by route.
Everyone who will actually go out on Christmas Eve is given a copy off their route ahead of time, so the drivers may locate the houses during daylight hours and the Santas may familiarize themselves with all the children's names.
When the big day finally arrives, the adults working on the program become as excited as the youngsters who are eagerly awaiting Santa's arrival. Between 4 and 5 p.m., the Post Function Hall is in sheer pandemonium. Eight normal human males are being transformed into jolly, red figures through the expert application of artificial padding, make-up and hairpieces. While the Santas are dressing and being made-up, the helpers and drivers are picking up candy canes and arranging the gifts in their vehicles for the children on their route.
Following the mass exodus prior to 5 p.m., the Post Function Hall returns to normal as the preparation supplies are picked up and a meal is set out in anticipation of the return of the Santa teams. The Christmas Eve Santa Claus program coordinator waits by the phone just in case any calls about the program should come. There is only one -- so apparently almost everything is running smoothly.
By 6:50 p.m., the first Santa groups return. Slowly, the others trickle in. The scene is always the same. The Santas are extremely warm in their heavy suits and exhausted, but everyone is smiling. As they eat and relax, tales of the evening's experiences are shared. A quiet euphoria fills the room. Everyone is pleased. The Townsend VFW Post and its Ladies Auxiliary have again successfully spread joy within their community.