Fifty-two years ago, the Gamage family — previous owners and publishers of The Item — inaugurated the Item Santa Fund Christmas drive.
It was the middle of the 1960s and President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty was well underway. And The Item decided to jump into the battle, choosing to launch a drive to raise money so that less fortunate children and families would be able to experience the joys of Christmas.
Its beginning was very humble, compared to the money the fund raises today — even in a so-called bad year.
The initial drive netted $3,269 ($25,342.36 in today’s economy), and it went toward meals for families who would have had to go without otherwise. Various Item managers and volunteers drove the meals to the homes of the recipients.
Last year, the fund raised slightly more than $90,000.
Two things happened to help the Item Santa fund take off. The first was the partnership with the Salvation Army, which began a decade into the drive.
The second was the work of the late managing editor John Moran, who took over stewardship of the program.
Moran, who received the Salvation Army’s “Others Award” for his service to the community, made Item Santa a seasonal priority, helping the program grow annually until it exceeded $100,000 shortly before he died in 1990.
The fund hit its high-water mark in 2002 when it reached $144,880.
The fund stayed at six figures or over until 2013, when it dipped under. The Item seeks to boost the total back up to $100,000 or more this year.
The Essex Media Group, which purchased The Item in 2014, has continued to run the fund.
Over the years, many people from the community have launched their own drives and donated the proceeds to the Item Santa Fund. Among them are the G.E. Good Neighbor Fund, Gannon Golf Course, and Lynn funeral director David J. Solimine, whose “Santa’s Island” bucket drive has helped the program immeasurably.
Every cent raised by the Item Santa fund goes directly to families in need of toys, shoes, clothes and food.
While The Item acts as the drive’s principal fundraiser, the Salvation Army handles the requests by people in the community for toys, clothing and other necessities. The Salvation Army also procures the toys and organizes the distribution of them.
To donate, clip the coupon in The Item and mail it, along with your check, to The Item Salvation Army Santa, PO Box 5, Lynn, MA 01903. For online donations, please go to www.itemsanta.org.
All donations are listed in Item print editions through the month of December and into 2019, along with a brief message from each donor, if desired.
Those interested in signing up to collect at Santa Island or any business willing to sell stockings should contact David Solimine Sr. or Joel Solimine at 781-595-1492.
NOTE: The application period for aid from Item Santa has closed and The Item does not process applicants. All questions about the program and distribution of gifts should be directed to Salvation Army at 781-598-0673.