Runners Pull Through For Needy Kids


In Wakefield, Massachusetts
No question about it – times are tough.

We’re in a recession that rivals any economic downturn since World War II, and some people are even starting to whisper the D-word.

That’s why it’s especially heartening this Christmas season to see ordinary people, who may themselves be struggling, going the extra mile to bring some Christmas joy to those who truly cannot help themselves – children.

As they have for almost twenty years, a group of local runners will once again don reindeer costumes and pull a sleigh carrying Santa for six miles around Wakefield, dropping off toys and gifts at the homes of needy local children. The annual Christmas “sleigh-pull” gets underway this Sunday evening, December 21, at 6:30 p.m. with the runners assembling at Veterans’ Field for the start of their annual journey of giving.

The runners don’t want anything in return for their commitment and generosity, not event recognition or publicity. They’ve asked to remain anonymous. The men used to belong to an informal running club called the “Horny Toads.” They’ve been doing their annual Christmas charity “sleigh-pull” for at least eighteen years, according to John, one of the original organizers.

“We’re just a bunch of fat old guys that run,” he jokes, adding that in recent years some of the original runners’ grownup kids have joined the reindeer team pulling the sleigh, making it a two-generation effort.

John says that the men came up with the idea years ago, “back when we had abs and hair.” After participating in Bill Rodgers’ annual “Jingle Bell Run” charity event, they wanted to do something more local and came up with the annual Christmas sleigh-pull.

John built the sleigh-on-wheels himself, and every year he and other members of the group get together in the garage of his West Side home to assemble it for yet another run. The sleigh has been improved over the years with the addition of colored holiday lights and Christmas music from an on-board sound system adding to the festive atmosphere.

These guys don’t just deliver the presents. They donate and wrap most of the gifts too, with other generous local people also contributing. This year, they will drop off well over 100 toys and gifts to fifteen families and more than thirty deserving kids. The Wakefield Unit of the Salvation Army provides the group with a list of addresses.

“We just show up and leave,” John says. “Nobody really knows who does it.”

At each stop along their route, young girls dressed as elves run the gifts from the sleigh to the home, as Santa waves to the children before the team heads off to the next stop. One of the runners describes the wide-eyed look of excitement on the faces of children peering from doorways and windows when they see Santa arrive in a sleigh pulled by “reindeer” to drop off bags of toys and gifts.

John says that the heartbreaking stories are what motivates the group year after year. Whether it’s the tragic loss of a parent or some other unfortunate circumstance beyond a child’s control, they are kids in need of some holiday joy, and these men are on a mission to deliver it.

So on Sunday night if you happen to see Santa in a sleigh pulled by nine men in reindeer costumes, wave and wish them a Merry Christmas.

In these times, selfless generosity such as that exhibited by these Christmas runners matters more than ever.

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