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November 17. 2012 12:33AM

The season of giving kicks off
 with laughs and generous spirits


Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas and Gov. John Lynch jokingly wrestle over a Twinkie at Friday's Union Leader Santa Fund for the Salvation Army Kickoff Luncheon. (JOSH GIBNEY/UNION LEADER)
MANCHESTER -- T
he Union Leader Santa Fund for the Salvation Army got off to a spirited start Friday when Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas decided to act as an auctioneer.

WZID radio personality Mike Morin, who served as master of ceremonies at the annual Santa Fund kickoff gathering at the Radisson, brought with him a box of what could be a vanishing treat, now that the Hostess company is going out of business.

Morin sold a box of Hostess Twinkies for $30 to Gatsas, who turned around and auctioned the individually-wrapped cakes for $100 each, raising another $1,000 for the Santa Fund. Gatsas put the bite on Gov. John Lynch, New Hampshire Union Leader Publisher Joseph McQuaid and others he called out by name.

Gatsas said the Santa Fund helps support Kids Cafe, where Manchester children who might not be able to have a meal at home, get supper as well as help with homework, crafts and social skills; it also sends 75 inner-city youngsters to a week at summer camp, and makes sure that there are presents for local children to open on Christmas morning.

Gatsas said there are many non-profit organizations looking for help at this time of year, but the Santa Fund is about children and how to make their Christmas brighter.
He said the Santa Fund raised $240,000 last year, and he hopes it can raise much more this year “for those kids that really need your support.”

The Santa Fund has raised nearly $6.8 million since it began in 1959.

Lynch said New Hampshire “is doing well relative to other states. . .but we still have children who go to bed hungry.”

Because of the Santa Fund, he said, children will wake up to gifts Christmas morning. Their families will also receive a grocery gift card to use for the ingredients for a special meal.

The Union Leader Santa Fund never sets a financial goal, relying on the sense of community in Manchester and the willingness and ability of people to share.

McQuaid said: “It is the state's biggest city, but it's still a small town.”

McQuaid noted that the WZID “Christmas is for Kids” broadcast from the Mall of New Hampshire Dec. 6 and 7 is another way the community supports those in need.

The new Salvation Army Manchester Corps Lieutenants, Herb and Miriam Rader, were introduced and a video produced by Herb Rader showed the work of the Corps through the words of staff and the children who are the “customers.”

A Manchester High School Central senior, who has been coming to the Salvation Army since sixth grade and is now a volunteer, spoke about how the Salvation Army has become her second family.

“I've always had a sense of direction,” said Franchesca Alcala, 17, but she needed help fine tuning it and she got it at the Salvation Army.

She spoke about some of the staff members who have listened and counseled and taught her many things, among them Community Center Director Bob Champagne. “He saw something in me that even I didn't see,” said Alcala.

Her second family also helped her find her career path, which she said includes enlisting in the Navy after graduation, then going to college to become a chef.

Her dream, she said, is to open her own restaurant.

Master of ceremonies Morin said of those at the Salvation Army: “They catch the kids before they fall through the cracks.”
In addition to the total $1,030 raised by the Twinkie auctions, another $4,160 was raised through the silent auction of 30 gift baskets that included a Christmas tree filled with various gift cards, baskets of baked goods and handmade Christmas napkins, all the ingredients needed for a gourmet Italian dinner, a collection of movies, movie tickets and popcorn, and even a wedding ceremony at the First Congregational Church with the minister of the winner's choice.

Awards were presented to two groups who are the top Red Kettle bell ringers.

The top “Giving” award went to the Merchants Motors Group, which raised $21,445, and second place went to the Bedford Rotary, which raised $12,321.

dvincent@unionleader.com