Chief elf at the Santa Claus Fund
That would be Barb Mrozek and it's an honour for the Decoder to tell you about her.
She celebrates Christmas twice each year. One is her traditional family Christmas that officially begins on Christmas Eve, as soon as she finishes work at the Toronto Star. The other starts much earlier, in February of each year, and ends around 5 p.m. on Christmas Eve when she's taken care of every last detail of the Toronto Star's Santa Claus Fund. You might say this second Christmas is a little bigger for Barb since she's in charge of ensuring 45,000 gift boxes arrive at children's homes across Toronto, as well as Peel and York regions, in time for the big day. She'd probably be hard-pressed to decide which is her favorite Christmas so it's best she doesn't have to choose.
As director of charities and philanthropy for the Star, Barb's in charge of the annual Santa Claus Fund. There's an immense amount of work, beginning with placing all the orders for toys and clothing in February, but she has the pleasure (as she puts it) of "bringing a little bit of comfort and a little bit of joy" to the hearts of so many children. She takes care to see each box is packed with a warm shirt, mittens, a hat, socks, candy and a toy for children up to 12 years. Barb (or one of her elves) even tucks a toothbrush and either watermelon- or strawberry-flavoured toothpaste in the boxes for children 5 and older. That way, she doesn't feel guilty about the candy. She says her goal is to send "educational" toys, but they still sound like fun. This year they include everything from a stuffed bear that snores for the really little ones to a walkie-talkie (age 7), a crystal-growing set (10), an American Idol shower radio (11) and a mini digital camera (12). Children are selected by social service and community organizations, including Toronto Social Services, the Yonge Street Mission, the YMCA and Catholic Children's Aid, among many others.
By the time Barb gets home to her own family on Christmas Eve, she's exhausted but it's the best kind of exhaustion. She gets cards, letters and telephone calls from regular donors, often people who tell her they remember receiving a gift - sometimes their only gift - from the Star's Santa Claus Fund when they were little and want to repay the kindness. This year has been an especially tough year for the economy and she's finding donations are coming in at a slightly slower pace than usual, but she's still confident of reaching the $1.5-million goal. "We need all the help we can get."
Barb talks about "one little guy" who started donating when he must have been about three years old. Julian Stevens from Toronto is a pre-teen now and veteran philanthropist, whose mother, April, first contacted the Star in 2003 to deliver $40 he'd raised with his hot chocolate business. (Barb keeps good records.) By 2007, he'd switched to the Fresh Air Fund, sending in $92 from his lemonade stand. Barb describes Julian's products as "seasonal." Last year, Julian collected $198.18 for the Santa Claus Fund and it's little wonder Barb says "he's inspiring."
In fact, "inspiring" is the adjective she uses to describe her job, although she says she usually doesn't see it that way until after Christmas when the work is done and she can relax. By then, it's almost time to begin again.
Merry Christmas, Barb, and best wishes of the season to you and your entire team of elves.
Here are the details of the Santa Claus Fund if you'd like to become a Barb Mrozek elf:
Goal: $1.5 million.
To Date: $883,585.
To Donate: For secure online donation, please go to thestar.com/santaclausfund
Visa, AMEX and MasterCard: Call 416-869-4847
Cheques: Please send to The Toronto Star Santa Claus Fund, One Yonge St., Toronto, ON M5E 1E6
The Star does not allow anyone to solicit on its behalf. Tax receipts will be issued.