For their 26th year, Santa’s Helpers of West Baton Rouge, an organization that collaborates with area schools to help less fortunate families during the holidays, has provided their own “Christmas miracles” to several families in the parish.
Since November, the organization has been in the process of collecting monetary and toy donations to be given out to families considered less fortunate.
The families are selected through a process through the school system
in which application are given to guidance counselors in each parish elementary and middle school. The guidance counselors then select families that are considered poor, or less fortunate, and provide the parents or legal guardians with an application to fill out in order to receive donations of toys and clothes for the children for Christmas.
“The applications are given to the guidance counselors of each school,” said Teri Bergeron, Chairperson for Santa’s Helpers of WBR and WBR School Board member-at-large. “They know better than we do what kids are at risk, or at need.”
Bergeron said that the organization spent the month collecting donations throughout the parish, and selecting families in need of assistance throughout the holiday season.
“This year, we were lucky enough in that Holy Family School did a toy drive for us, and so did Dow Chemical,” she said, adding that the Carruth Foundation gave a $1,000 donation to, specifically, provide clothing for children. “We had some families that, instead of having a Christmas party, they asked everybody to bring a toy for Santa’s Helpers. The rest of the money we collected came strictly from local families.”
She said that an anonymous donor provided 20 bicycles, 10 Razor scooters and about 20 skateboards.
On December 15, students from both area high schools, Brusly and Port Allen, gathered to deliver the toys to the 190 children of the 64 families throughout the parish.
The organization began in 1986 when C.A. Altazan had the idea to have a program specifically for families of West Baton Rouge Parish after helping collect toys for the GoodFellas Good Samaritans program in East Baton Rouge Parish for years.
Altazan said that he, along with his cousins, the Robeau sisters got together with another cousin, Gladys Ryan, who was in charge of the Good Samaritan program in Baton Rouge.
“We sat around and we talked about it and I told them what we wanted to do, Gladys told them how they did it in East Baton Rouge,” Altazan explained. “We formed a makeshift board of directors of people from all over the different areas in the parish.”
Altazan said that they were able to help a handful of families that first year, and with the collaboration with the school board, the program continued to get bigger and better each year.
“We helped, at its peak, probably close to 400 kids from 100-plus families,” he said.
Altazan, a former WBR School Board member, said that his love of West Baton Rouge and his heart for children moved him to help create the organization.
“My theory at the beginning… was that these young kids don’t understand why Santa Claus went to everybody else but didn’t come to them. So I said I wanted to help the young kids,” he explained.
Bergeron said that the program continues to run in the same vane – with a passion for the youth of WBR.
“We are trying to help somebody that just a little bit less fortunate,” she said. “Some of the ones I delivered to, I know those babies would not have had Christmas.”
This year, after all of the deliveries were made, Bergeron said she had a few small boxes of toys left over.
The toys left over were donated to Mrs. Agnes Anderson, her son Kirby Anderson and the rest of the Anderson family, who holds a large toy and bike giveaway each year for Christmas.
The Anderson family have been hosting their toy giveaway for more than 30 years, which started with Mrs. Agnes Anderson and her late husband Curtis.
“They’re serving kids in West Baton Rouge Parish as well, and have for many, many years, so I know I left them in good hands,” Bergeron said.