Santa poses with the welcome sign a family made for him during a trip to a home on School Street.
By James Kinneen
Hometown Weekly Reporter
With COVID-19 forcing many families to remain stuck at home throughout the holiday season - or at the very least, unwilling to venture anywhere near the crowds of a mall in December - annual Santa visits and pictures with Santa have steeply declined in 2020. To simultaneously remedy this situation while raising money they often transfer to charities like the Westwood Food Pantry and the Westwood Early Education Council, this year, the Westwood Young Women’s Club (WYWC) introduced Santa Visits Westwood.
On Saturday, Santa came to visit Westwood children at their homes, give them a gift bag, and take pictures with them.
Members of the Westwood Young Women’s Club (which mostly consists of women in their late 20’s to early 40’s) view their core mission as helping the community and connecting with each other.
“The Westwood Young Women's Club is a volunteer organization of about 30 women in Westwood whose focus is giving back to our community here in town,” Vice President Kate Latham explained. “We typically put on fundraisers that also give back, like touch-a-truck, our summer concert series, town wide yard sale and Winterfest. Due to COVID, none of those things were able to happen. We were able to give money to the Westwood Early Education Council and the Westwood Food Pantry in honor of Eddie Thompson. We’ve been around for like thirty years. We’re a group of around thirty women from Westwood whose goals are to connect with each other and give back to the community. It’s very simple - those are the two tenets we really try to encourage.”
The club viewed Santa’s visits as a great opportunity to live up to these ideals in the face of Winterfest, their annual winter extravaganza that often features balloon animals, slime tables and face painting, having to be cancelled.
“We typically put on Winterfest every year, which is one of our biggest events, and then obviously COVID happened, so it got cancelled. But we really wanted to be able to do something for the community, find a way to get our name out there, give back and also to help us raise some money."
Much more convenient than waiting in line at the mall, families informed the club of when they would be available, and were texted ahead of time to know that Santa’s sleigh - or in this case, his Christmas-light-adorned Toyota Highlander - was on its way. Kids were even given little gift bags by the big guy, after they told him what they wanted for Christmas.
Around forty houses participated, with Latham estimating around one hundred kids were visited. In fact, demand was so great they had a man raise his hand to volunteer to be a second Santa Claus so they could visit more houses. The event was such a hit (and financial success), the club is looking to see if people would prefer to continue doing things this way, whether COVID is still around next year or not.
“I do want to send out some notes to people after the fact, because we have thought this may be a thing we could do going forward; because it can be a lot of work putting on big productions.”
It was probably a lot of work scrambling to put Santa Visits Westwood together, as well. But for the prize of seeing kids reacting to having old St. Nick show up at their house, it was likely very much worth it.