PAWTUCKET — Thanks to a special visit by a world famous Santa, the Times collected the first batch of donations to kick off its 2011 Merry Christmas Fund appeal.
Santa to the Stars, also known as Pawtucket's own Brady White, once again delighted young and old alike on Monday night with his visit to the Blackstone Valley Visitor Center. As youngsters posed for photos and chatted about their Christmas wish lists with the celebrity Santa, the Times raised almost $130 for the fund, which goes toward the Salvation Army of Pawtucket.
Since 1982, the Times has been inviting individuals and groups to make donations to the Merry Christmas Fund, which is used to help those less fortunate to have a happier holiday. Over the years, over $730,000 has been raised through a combination of donations and fundraising activities.
The Times has set a goal this season of $7,500. All donations to the Merry Christmas Fund will be published in the Times except for those that are requested to be anonymous.
Salvation Army Captains Leo and Perci Sanclemente said that the Pawtucket Corps provides much needed food programs for those less fortunate members of the community, and that helping those who are struggling to make ends meet while working their way through their difficulties is a key element of The Salvation Army's mission. They add that the Corps has more than doubled the number of community members it has been able to assist throughout the year (over 400 families per month) and is asking that members of the community think about helping out their fellow citizens.
However, on Monday night, it was all about visiting Santa, who looked as jolly as ever with his flowing, natural white beard, twinkling eyes and ornate red velvet robe trimmed with white fur. As he does each year, White took the time to talk with each child (and many of their parents) about what they want for Christmas and patiently posed so the memory could be captured in a photo. He held infants and toddlers, talked knowingly about the latest toys with older children, and even sat with a few adults, including the festively dressed Sean McClelland and Rebecca Paige, who intended to use the photo for their Christmas card.
“There's Santa!”, Kym Monteiro, of Pawtucket, said to her daughter, Autumn, as the two came in the door. She said that this was the third year in a row that she had taken her daughter to see this Santa, who makes his living as a professional model for TV commercials, catalogs and live appearances in Hollywood, New York City and other major cities around the globe. He even has his own YouTube video called “Santa's Wrap.” “It's because of how real he looks and how great he is with the kids,” she said.
When asked what was special about this Santa, seven-year-old Keith Landry, of Pawtucket, thought a minute and said, “I like him because he takes his time.” He added that the item on the top of his Christmas list this year was “an iguana.”
Susan Landry, of Pawtucket, Keith's grandmother, said that what brings her back each year is that “He just looks so authentic.”
Pam Bradley, of Pawtucket, had dressed her four-year-old daughter, Madison, in a special white and silver dress, sparkly silver shoes and a white fur coat for her Santa visit. “We try to come every year. He's the 'Santa to the Stars” and he's also from Pawtucket, too, so it has meaning,” Bradley said.
Among the many little girls dressed in their holiday best was five-year-old Paige Hardy. Santa compared his red velvet sleeves with those on her red velvet Christmas dress while mom Michelle Hardy snapped photos. Paige's request was that Santa deliver her “a new Pet Pals video” on Christmas morning.
Among Santa to the Stars' biggest followers are the members of the Laurenco family. Formerly of Pawtucket and now living in Warwick, Misty Laurenco said that she has brought her four children, Destiny, 16, Davin, 14, Jonathan, 10, and Jesse, 8 to see Brady White every year of their lives and has the photos to prove it. Destiny added that she hopes White keeps on being Santa so one day she can take her own children to see him.
Keri Paquette, of Lincoln, who brought her three-year-old son, Boston, and 18-month old son, Chance, said that she, too, has made the visit to see White's rendition of Santa for several years in a row. “It's almost like a tradition. And he's the 'Santa to the Stars”...that's cool!”
Among the youngest visitors was two-month-old Alana Andrews, who had been brought there by her aunt, Mindy Titchenell, of Pawtucket. Alana's grandmother, Linda Keough, of Pawtucket, said, “He's such a good Santa. He takes his time, he's patient. And I listen to him talking to the kids and the kids talking to him, and I say, 'What is he, magic?'”she said.