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Serving a good claus

Sandy Claus is coming to town!

With Christmas quickly approaching, it’s time for holiday spirit and generosity, exemplified by one local charity, the Secret Sandy Claus Project run by Brooklynite Michael Sciaraffo.

After Superstorm Sandy affected countless families in the tri-state area, Sciaraffo decided to organize a disaster relief fund by posting flyers throughout the neighborhood. He received five tons of goods donated in just one day. Once he experienced massive outpouring of goodwill, Sciaraffo wanted to try and save at least a little bit of the affected families’ holidays.

“I figured, if I could organize that in one day, let’s see what else we could do. So, knowing Christmas was just around the corner, I realized that if the homes were destroyed, then so were all of the kids’ toys. The idea was to do a toy drive to start replacing them,” he recalled.

The idea grew from there. After posting a notification on Facebook, he received 750 toys in four days. The cause began to build momentum, as several media outlets covered the mission, including CNN and CBS National News. This exposure allowed the cause to grow.

“We raised over $15,000 by the end of January which we used throughout the year to rent the sleigh,” explained Sciaraffo, who said he used the sleigh to deliver donations that went out two to three times per week to the Rockaways, Brooklyn and Staten Island.

That first foray on Facebook was just the beginning. While, at first, Sciaraffo used Post-It Notes to organize and track information, once the project grew, he looked to technology once again for help.

Starting Google web forums made organizing more manageable. Now volunteers choose from several acts of goodwill on the official website.

These include being a toy maker, which involves holding a toy drive at a local school; being Santa, which involves making visits to homes of kids donned in Santa Clause costume; and being a sleigh rider, picking up and delivering toys. There are ways to help on a smaller scale as well, such as toy, supply and/or money donations.

“Without all of the internet technology and help of all the hundreds of elves who have helped me along the way, I would never have had enough information and support from others to execute this. I’d still be sitting in my house with Post It Notes. It truly has been crucial to making this a successful operation,” said Sciaraffo.

The preparation for spreading the joy is now beginning and Sciaraffo is aiming to deliver a massive 15,000 toys this year. “Right now,” Sciaraffo explained, “we are doing the building and training of the teams, keeping track of committed toy drives, when they are and when they need to be picked up, how we will transport the toys to their respective North Pole locations, create the flyers for each toy drop location and other things of that nature. Come December 1, all of the North Pole locations will begin the delivery phase using the Santas to make the stops and the Sleigh Riders to shuttle the toys around where they are needed.”

In addition, the organization has helped with other devastating events around the country. “Right after the tornadoes in Oklahoma and the floods in Colorado, the best and brightest Sandy relief volunteers teamed up and reached out to folks on the ground there to help coordinate and organize relief in the same fashion we had done in the Northeast,” Sciaraffo said.”We lent our experience and expertise to them so they would have the building blocks and support to start conducting their own relief operations.”

Of all the lives that Sciaraffo has touched, one memory stands out to him. “I got to wake up one girl at her bed,” he recalled. “When she woke up, she rubbed her eyes and thought she was in a dream. I explained to her that I was really Santa, here to pay her a special visit before Christmas because the storm had washed away all her toys. She was the happiest little girl I have ever seen. I gave her a hug, a kiss and tucked her into bed. Unbelievable,” Sciaraffo posted on the Sandy Relief website.

To volunteer or for more information, visit www.secretsandyclausproject.com.

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