Merry Christmas! For this week’s #ShopFranklin Spotlight, I interviewed Mr. and Mrs. Claus themselves – or at least, Franklin’s equivalent – Bob Sullivan and Jan Prentice of the Santa Foundation!
The Santa Foundation got its start 29 years ago, when Bob and his wife decided to bring the Christmas spirit to some needy local families. Bob got a couple of names from the Food Pantry, and then he “bought the gifts, bought a Santa suit, went to their house, ‘HO HO HO!’ delivered their gifts and left.” Nearly three decades later, he’s still doing it, but the operation has since expanded to include ten volunteers who assist hundreds of families. Bob’s right-hand woman, Jan, goes by Mrs. Claus and never appears without her trademark reindeer-antler headband, even during summer fundraising events. “I have to wear my antlers because nobody recognizes me without my antlers!” Jan laughs.
The heart of the Santa Foundation is to help give its families some hope by providing them with Christmas gifts and giving them “one day of the year to be just like every other family,” Bob says. Jan adds that “we’re more concerned about the children… but we do take care of the adults too.” Local food banks, housing authorities, schools, and churches provide the Santa Foundation with names of families who could use assistance, but all families’ details are kept confidential so that their privacy can be preserved. Organizations or individuals can sponsor a particular family by purchasing items from the family’s anonymous wishlist, or they can simply donate whatever they would like, since Jan and the volunteers “put it all together and it all adds up.” If you’re interested in donating, the Santa Foundation only accepts new gifts to give to its families; “it’s a kick in the pants if you give a child something used,” says Jan. Gift cards are especially welcome, since “teenagers are the hardest to buy for,” according to Bob.
As a federally registered 501(c)(3) charity, the Santa Foundation now operates year-round to help the local community. Jan and her volunteers start shopping for next year’s Christmas gifts starting on December 26, but there’s more to the Foundation’s efforts than just Christmas. The Santa Foundation can also help pay a needy family’s rent, utility bills, or even help people in crisis get to shelters, no matter what season it happens to be. “Somehow it works,” says Jan. “We’ve never not helped someone.” Fortunately, Bob’s accounting firm, Sullivan and Associates, provides physical space and pays all overhead costs so that the Santa Foundation is free to pass along every dime of its $65,000 budget straight to its families. “We don’t get huge checks like the Heart Association. We’re local, you know,” says Bob, who wants to emphasize that every donation to the Santa Foundation makes a big impact since everything they receive is kept right here in the community.
All year round, the volunteers “work their butts off” night and day to get ready for next Christmas and address families’ day-to-day needs. “The volunteers we have here are amazing,” Bob says, and Jan has stopped keeping track of the hours she and the rest of the crew work. 148 families were helped last year in Franklin alone, and the community’s need keeps growing. Donations are accepted year-round, and the Santa Foundation also raises money for its efforts by selling calendars and holding a summer golf tournament. Bob’s accounting clients often donate and sponsor families, and even some of the gift recipients donate to help others. “Everyone is taken care of,” Jan says.