The local Santa Claus Girls organization, which distributes Christmas gifts for children in need in the Grand Cities, has set a $40,000 fundraising goal for this year.

Support from the community and various organizations is critical to its success, said Carol Schneweis, treasurer for Santa Claus Girls.

In 2020, more than 1,250 children, ages 12 and younger, received a package from Santa Claus Girls, Schneweis said. Each package contained a hat, gloves, socks, an age-appropriate toy and book, crayons and coloring book, along with a toothbrush and toothpaste, she said.

In addition, each family receives a small bag of candy, wrapping paper and tape, and a coupon for a free large pizza.

Community support for this project has been “phenomenal,” especially last year, Schneweis said. “While technically the packages come from the Santa Claus Girls, it is the community-wide effort that makes it possible.”

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A year ago, the Santa Claus Girls were unsure whether there would be a distribution day, she said.

“With COVID restriction, increased costs and questions as to whether or not people would volunteer during a pandemic, we pondered our future," she said. “Our fears were unfounded, as not only were we able to distribute the packages, but we set a new record for the number of children served, the number of volunteers (more than 75) and in our monetary campaign goals through donations and grants from the community.”

The Santa Claus Girls are very grateful for “the people who show up in deed or donation to make it happen,” Schneweis said.

This year, the package distribution day is Dec. 17, but the preparation goes on for the entire year, she said.

The “Santa Shoppers,” Julie and Jennifer Ekberg, scour stores for the best buys on toys, hats and gloves, all the while keeping an in-depth inventory to ensure there are enough items in stock to meet the requested need of every child, regardless of age or gender.

Other individuals, companies and organizations provide support by hosting toy drives. The BJ Armani Cabaret raises money and purchases toys for the children. Badger Dental donates all the toothbrushes. Deek’s Pizza donates coupons for a large pizza for each family, and Dusterhoff Family Stores company helps with the candy purchase. Acme Rents, Hope Church and Whalen’s Moving and Storage also provide important support.

Volunteers from several companies, including American Crystal Sugar and Community Contractors, are actively involved in preparing for and serving on distribution day.

Behind the scenes, six Santa Claus Girls board members spend hours planning, counting and sorting items throughout the year, Schneweis said.

The Engelstad Foundation supports operating costs so all donations from the community can go directly to the children, and a 2020 grant from the Myra Foundation is used to purchase many items for children, she said.

Schneweis, who has been involved in Santa Claus Girls since 2000, is the group’s liaison with schools, churches and Social Services units, helping to identify families in need. She also helps with the marathon task of coordinating volunteers for package pick-up by families at the Grand Cities Mall.

As an organization, Santa Claus Girls’ history dates back to 1916, when the group was founded by Grand Forks Herald employees who decided to brighten Christmas for children in need.

The group operated out of the Grand Forks Herald’s downtown building until it was sold to the city a few years ago.

“We have adjusted well to our new location in the Grand Cities Mall, with assistance from Hope Church and the community,” Schneweis said. “Our mission is to provide Christmas support to families in need who live in Grand Forks or East Grand Forks.”

How to give to Santa Claus Girls:

Donations may be mailed to:

Santa Claus Girls

1726 S. Washington St., #81

Grand Forks, N.D. 58201

Donations may be made with Paypal via Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/GFsantaclausgirls/

How to become a volunteer:

Go to www.Santaclausgirls.com

For more information, contact Carol Schneweis at (701) 739-5480