MANCHESTER — Grateful as she was to have presents under the tree on Christmas morning, Sharianne Callejas said the Union Leader Santa Fund for the Salvation Army provides much more than toys for children in need.
“I’d say it’s (also) feeding little tummies that are hungry when there’s no food. It’s putting warm clothing on children who are cold,” said Callejas, a guest Monday at the annual Santa Fund kickoff luncheon and fundraiser.
Callejas sat down with Salvation Army Maj. Armida Harper for a discussion during the luncheon, recalling how the Salvation Army and Santa Fund have helped her through the holidays and throughout the year.
Callejas recounted the difficulties she has faced as a single mother. She has six children of her own, and also added three of her older sister’s children, adopting them out of foster care. The challenges have included finding affordable housing, feeding the extended family and keeping up with bills.
When her tight budget didn’t allow for presents, Callejas said the Santa Fund and Salvation Army stepped up to ensure the family had a joyous holiday season.
Callejas was also thankful the children had a safe place to go after school and warm clothing to get them through the winter. And, of course, there were the presents she was able to place under the tree for Christmas morning.
“It was more like a gift to me than it was for the kids,” Callejas said. “It was a wonderful feeling to be able to have those gifts and still be able to pay my bills.”
The luncheon officially launched the 60th year of the Union Leader Santa Fund for the Salvation Army, a longstanding partnership that has grown to become a holiday tradition in the greater Manchester community.
About 300 people filled the Armory banquet room at the DoubleTree hotel, where a silent auction of items donated by local businesses and individuals helped the season of giving get rolling.
“We express to you today our most profound gratitude for 60 years of unwavering commitment to making peoples’ burdens just a little lighter during the holidays and making their smiles a whole lot brighter,” said Capt. Mike Harper of the Salvation Army’s Manchester Corps. “We’re all acutely aware that for those who are in need the holidays can be very difficult and burdensome; for many of us it is a time of tremendous joy, but there are others who don’t quite feel that.”
The Santa Fund, which also provides summer camps, after-school programs, holiday meal assistance, and warm clothing and coats for kids, has raised nearly $8 million since the Union Leader and Salvation Army first formed the partnership in 1960.
The luncheon kicked off with the silent auction and donation envelopes supplied at each table in the banquet room.
Santa Fund contributions provide for The Salvation Army’s annual warm clothing drive, which earlier this month outfitted hundreds of children with coats and winter clothing during a sponsored shopping spree at J.C. Penney at the Mall of New Hampshire.
The Harpers and Capt. Mike Davis of the Salvation Army also took a few moments to recognize area organizations for their contributions during the holiday donation season through the annual kettle drive. The Bedford Rotary Club received a plaque in recognition of the $12,517.52 that members collected last season outside Harvest Market in Bedford. Merchants Auto was recognized for raising nearly $21,600.
The Salvation Army also recognized Union Leader Publisher Joseph W. McQuaid with an award for his efforts.
“The lives touched through the money donated are countless,” Davis said before inviting McQuaid to receive his plaque on stage.
Union Leader President Brendan McQuaid delivered the closing remarks at the end of the luncheon, thanking the many donors who have made giving part of each holiday season, and providing some highlights from the long history of the Santa Fund. The first season brought in about $1,000, much of which came though $1 donations given by “a friend.”
“That $1,000 translated into years of giving and nearly $8 million so far,” McQuaid said.
The list of “friends” has continued to grow and McQuaid assured the audience that the Union Leader will continue publishing it and recognizing the community’s efforts to help others in the spirit of the holidays.
“The true Christmas spirit is alive and well in this room,” McQuaid said. “I appreciate the generosity and I hope that your Christmas season is as bright as you’ve been able to make it for the people that are touched by the Union Leader Santa Fund.”
How to donate
• Santa Fund donations can be made online at www.unionleader.com/santafund.
• Donations also may be made by sending a check to the Union Leader Santa Fund, c/o New Hampshire Union Leader, P.O. Box 9555, Manchester, NH 03108.
• Or drop your donation in the Santa Fund box in the lobby of the newspaper at 100 William Loeb Drive, Manchester, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.