Santa’s Posse ready to ride, thanks to Herculean volunteer effort
Toys and food boxes for 1,500 families packaged and ready for pick-up by Santa’s Posse
RIDGEFIELD — The biggest day of the year for Santa’s Posse is coming up Sunday, but in order for the charity to be able to deliver thousands of presents and food boxes, there has to be a big day before that biggest day.
On Thursday night, scores of volunteers showed up at the Clark County Event Center at the Fairgrounds to prepare for Sunday.
This year, Santa’s Posse will be delivering food and toys to 1,500 families in Southwest Washington — that’s up from 1,200 last year.
Santa’s Posse, formed in 1997, is a partnership between the Clark County Sheriff’s Office and the community to provide Christmas essentials to less fortunate families.
On Sunday morning, hundreds of volunteers — the posse — will arrive at the fairgrounds, load up their cars with bags and boxes, and deliver to those 1,500 families.
But first, those 1,500 bags, and those 1,500 boxes of food, had to be filled, and organized into zip codes. That’s what happened Thursday, with the outgoing sheriff and the incoming sheriff on hand to thank the volunteers and do their part in the massive operation.
“As a young deputy 25 years ago, I made deliveries in my patrol car,” said Chuck Atkins, Clark County Sheriff. “That was impactful. Watching this grow from a few dozen families to 100 to 400 and when I became sheriff, I think we were at 800 families. My goal, by the end of my run, was to be at 1,500.”
Santa’s Posse got there.
“We were at 1,200 last year. When I said I wanted to do 300 additional this year, they all looked at me like I was crazy,” Atkins said. “I said, ‘Have faith. We’ll find a way we can do this.’”
The board of directors agreed.
Atkins said the community support, in donations and volunteer hours, should get much of the credit.
“During a pandemic, when times were tough for everybody, we raised as much if not more money yearly in support of this program,” Atkins said.
“It’s a true measure of what we are as a community,” he said.
Sheriff-elect John Horch, who expects to be sworn in as the sheriff next week, also remembered his first year volunteering for Santa’s Posse. He said he hopes the program will maintain its momentum.
“You want to make sure you do it right. It’s a big project. You want to make sure you have the logistics to handle it,” Horch said. “I see that it hasn’t stopped growing. Who’s to say five, six years from now, we’re not at 2,000 families?”
He also will carry on the tradition of the sheriff being a leader in this operation. He hopes all of his deputies will be part of Santa’s Posse.
“Every one of us feels for people,” Horch said of the law enforcement community. “This is the time of the year when we all come together and we get to actually show up and bring presents. We get to see the look on the kids’ faces.”
If the need remains, Santa’s Posse wants to be there to help.
Judging from Thursday’s outpouring of support, the posse will always have enough volunteers.
Kevin Allais, a retired sergeant with the sheriff’s department, has overseen Santa’s Posse for 20 of its 25 years.
Bags are filled with toys, gift cards, and clothes. A volunteer receives a list of each family’s requests, and that volunteer takes a red bag and fills it with the appropriate toy for a child’s age and gender. There is a long line of tables topped with toys for all the different categories. A volunteer fills the toy bag and drops it off in a spot with the assigned zip code. Then the volunteer gets back in line to do it again for the next family.
On the other side of the exhibition hall, a long assembly line fills the food boxes. And yes, there is someone there to count all the way to 1,500.
“It’s 25 years in the making,” Allais said. “How do we tweak it to make it effective and efficient? When you volunteer, you don’t want to stand around and put your hands in your pocket. You want to get busy, get this thing done. We have it pretty well dialed in.”
Santa’s Posse would prefer for its Sunday volunteers to check in online by Friday, just to give an idea of how many cars will be coming through the line. But Allais said if delivery drivers forget to sign up, they are still welcome to show up Sunday morning. To check in, go to: https://www.santasposse.org/
The event starts at 8 a.m. Sunday. In recent years, there have been so many volunteers that all gifts and boxes were sent out into the community in just a matter of a few hours. Allais noted, however, that there are 300 more families to be served this year, so it might take a little longer. Still, it is requested that delivery drivers get there early.
Allais also appreciates that Santa’s Posse is an all-volunteer nonprofit. No one takes a salary. Every dollar donated goes to the mission — food and toys for families in need.
But remember on Sunday that none of this would be possible without Thursday’s big day before the biggest day of the year for Santa’s Posse.
As volunteers started filling their bags and adding items to the food boxes, Atkins took a look at all the energy in the building.
“This place is just abuzz with people working,” Atkins said. “You look around, it’s a lot of the same volunteers year after year. Once they’ve done it, they’ve just got to do it again.”
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