At the Pettis County Community Santa workshop, there are two kinds of elves: those who work up front and those who work in back. In many ways, Margie Griffin is as “up front” as it gets.
For the past 10 years, Griffin has greeted clients and helped them complete applications for the program, which provides Christmas gifts for children in need. As a retired special services teacher who worked in both the Sedalia 200 and Dresden school districts, many of those she assists are her former students.
Carol McMillin, who teams with Betty Albrecht to be the driving force behind Community Santa, said: “The girls up front, I think they carry the burden of the program because they have to hear the stories and often the stories are very sad. They have to interact and stay positive at the same time. In the back, we are playing in a lot of ways; we are filling those orders with the toys that are going to make a lot of smiles happen.”
Griffin embraces the face-to-face interactions she shares with parents who need a little help to ensure their children receive items from their Christmas wish lists. She has recruited a lot of retired teachers to work with her. “This is perfect for us,” she said, because they know how to fill out forms and how to deal with people.
“The most fulfilling part is seeing how appreciative parents are when we can provide something they can’t. Sometimes it is very heart-wrenching. We hear a lot of very true, very real, very honest sad stories,” Griffin said.
As she works to brighten local families’ holiday, Griffin is struck by how many people are struggling not just with providing Christmas for their children, but with putting a meal on their table each night.
“If you have a job and you can feed your kids and buy them some decent gifts, and you have a car you can get around in, you are an incredibly lucky person,” she said. “If you have an extended family who can help you out, you’re a very lucky person. Primarily, if you can take care of your little kids, you’re really lucky. If you have a job and you can do it without help, that is rare in the group that we see, because we really see a need.”
It also has opened her eyes to the small ways she and other residents can make a difference.
“The need is definitely all year,” Griffin said. “Stuff I wouldn’t have donated before, that I would have tried to sell at a garage sale, I donate now.”
While signups to receive assistance through Community Santa closed on Friday, the program is still accepting toy and monetary donations to complete those wish lists.
“We have to collect year-round or we can’t make it work,” McMillin said. “Especially this year … we are going to take care of toys for those families whose homes have burned down. I know that the city is taking care of a financial donation for all kinds of real needs but those children still need Christmas.”
Griffin stressed for donors that new items are preferred “because (the clients) are used to used. This is Christmas, we want them to have their wish list as closely as we can get to it.”
McMillin sees Griffin as an invaluable part of the Community Santa effort. As McMillin was praising the importance of Griffin’s ability to speak Spanish, Griffin shouted, “Un poquito,” or “a little,” which brought laughs from the whole crew.
Griffin’s ability to bring humanity and compassion to those just trying to provide a nice Christmas for their children does not go unnoticed.
“She’s always got a smile,” McMillin said. “There is no client who walks in who she isn’t glad to see and find some way to help them – more than just taking their application. She finds a way to make a connection. She’s an awesome lady.”
For Griffin, the best is yet to come.
“When we have give-out day, when people pick up those giant bags of toys, that is a fun day,” she said. “The most fulfilling part for me is dealing with people.”