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 A small Kiwanis club takes on a big holiday project — with a little help from a sleigh’s worth of Santas

Julie Saetre  | Dec 18, 2019

Santas save the dayThe Winter Holiday Light Show has long been a beloved holiday tradition in Danville, Indiana, a town of fewer than 10,000 residents. Each year between Thanksgiving and Christmas, hundreds of locals and visitors pile into cars for a drive through Ellis Park, which has been transformed with 85 twinkling light displays, some as tall as 30 feet, comprised of more than one million individual lights.

So when the light show’s sponsors — the town’s parks and recreation department and chamber of commerce — approached the Danville Kiwanis Club last spring with an offer to get involved, members listened. The club could run Santaland in conjunction with the light show every Friday, Saturday and Sunday of the event. For US$5, a child would receive a photo with Santa Claus, a cup of cocoa and a cookie, and the club would receive the proceeds.

Club members were intrigued, but also concerned.

Santas save the day

“We are a small club with only 28 members,” says Deelynna Oliphant, the club’s immediate past president. “We saw this as a huge commitment for our club, but we decided to accept the opportunity. As we worked through the logistics, there was only one thing that we were having trouble with: We were required to have ‘real’ Santas.”

Oliphant began scoping out potential candidates wherever she went — the grocery store, restaurants, church. She reached out to a few candidates who agreed to help, but she didn’t feel confident that she had the right mix.

Santas save the dayThen a fellow Kiwanian forwarded a Facebook advertisement to Oliphant. The man in the ad, the club member assured Oliphant, looked like a real Santa. Oliphant agreed, but when she saw the man’s appearance fee, it was more than the club could afford. Eventually, she decided to make the call anyway.

On the other end of the line was Rick Parker, a member of the nonprofit Indiana Santa Claus Society. The society’s goal aligns nicely with Kiwanis: The group pledges to “spread joy and happiness to children of all ages” by giving back to those in need. In addition to appearing as Santa and Mrs. Claus, society members continually collect toys for children who have been affected by fires, floods, tornadoes and other traumatic events.

Parker immediately volunteered for three of Santaland’s 12 nights at no charge. He then reached out to fellow society members as well as members of a similar group, Hoosier Santas.

“Before I knew it,” Oliphant says, “we had every single one of our days filled with ‘real’ Santas. My phone kept ringing with Santas from all over Central Indiana who wanted to help our little club get this event off the ground. There was never any hesitation from the time I started telling Rick our story, nor was there ever any expectation from any of them in return.”

To show their appreciation, the Kiwanians are partnering with area businesses and other service clubs to hold toy drives to ensure the Santa Claus Society’s storage unit stays fully stocked.  

Yes, Danville, there really is a Santa Claus.

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