Mat-Su Special Santa gives gifts to thousands of Valley kids
For more than 20 years, Mari Jo Parks has happily taken on the job as Mat-Su Special Santa's CEO — that is, Chief Elf Organizer.
She founded the program with the goal of helping foster kids; now Mat-Su Special Santa gifts gives to thousands of children of all ages.
"This is a family of five. We're giving them trucks, games puzzles," Parks listed off as she searched the rooms full of toys for the perfect gifts.
Her organization partners with the Salvation Army and Toys for Tots to ensure there's enough meet the demand. Last year, parents took home gifts for 3,800 kids.
Parks tears up when she thinks about the families that have come through over the years.
"I didn't know the families that got new hope because people cared and shared. I didn't know that a community would give so generously and that we would have as much fun working as hard as we do," Parks said.
Parents write a wish list and the volunteer elves do their best to fill it.
On Friday, Valerie Atwater picked up her sack of toys. She's the primary caregiver for her five grandchildren and has been using the Mat-Su Special Santa program for a decade.
"It means being able to give the kids a little bit extra that I may not be able to afford and stuff I might not have picked out myself so it's kind of cool," Atwater said.
Parents are still able to drop in from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. through Saturday, Dec. 22 without needing to pre-register.
This year, pickup for Mat-Su Special Santa is located in Wasilla at 201 E. Swanson Ave., in the back of the building in Suite 76.
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