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Grand Forks woman recalls childhood joy of Santa Claus Girls

Lois Kraft remembers the Herald's Santa Claus Girls as a bright spot during the holidays during the Great Depression, when she was a child and her family didn't have money for gifts.

Lois Kraft looks at a book her granddaughter made as a gift. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald
Lois Kraft looks at a book her granddaughter made as a gift. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

Lois Kraft remembers the Herald's Santa Claus Girls as a bright spot during the holidays during the Great Depression, when she was a child and her family didn't have money for gifts.

Her father couldn't find work, so he had left the family, and her mother was left to raise Kraft and her five siblings by herself.

Kraft suspects her father left so her family could qualify for welfare to cover the most basic necessities. Still, there was never enough for extras. So each year, the Santa Claus Girls would show up with bags of goodies for Kraft and her siblings.

Now 84, the Grand Forks woman hasn't forgotten the impact the Santa Claus Girls had on her family, and to show her gratitude she's a regular donor to the yearly drive.

"We wouldn't have had many presents if it wasn't for the Santa Claus Girls," she said.

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She remembers stockings stuffed with fruit, candy, gloves and mittens, hats and toys. Kraft said she also received help from the charity later in adulthood when she again fell on a difficult time and didn't have enough money for Christmas.

"They took care of my little girl," Kraft explained.

The gifts don't include fruit anymore, but the hauls do include plenty of toys, candy, cold-weather wraps - plus the wrapping paper that goes with it.

This season marks the 100-year anniversary of the Santa Claus Girls, which originated in 1916 when new Herald Managing Editor Tom Parker Junkin borrowed the idea from Grand Rapids, Mich., where he had worked for more than a decade.

He asked Herald employees to make contributions to finance the program so no child would be without a gift on Christmas morning. Each contribution was, and still is, acknowledged in the Herald.

Schools, churches, Social Services, Head Start and other programs nominate children to receive the gifts. Families also can self-request.

This year, the Santa Claus Girls charity hopes to raise $18,000 to provide gifts and goodies for about 800 children. That's a far cry from the group's first effort in 1916, which brought in $270.23. That amount would equal almost $6,000 today.

About 20 volunteers will pack the gifts Dec. 8 and more volunteers will deliver the bags to families Dec. 9.

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Kraft implored the Grand Forks community to donate to the Santa Claus Girls cause. "All those 'girls' are really appreciated," she said. "God bless them."

How to donate

The Santa Claus Girls campaign runs through the end of the holiday season. Donations can be sent to the Santa Claus Girls, c/o the Grand Forks Herald, Box 6008, Grand Forks ND 58206.

Lois Kraft remembers being helped by the Santa Claus Girls during the Great Depression when her mother was raising her six children alone. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald
Lois Kraft remembers being helped by the Santa Claus Girls during the Great Depression when her mother was raising her six children alone. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

Related Topics: GFH INSTAGRAM
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