‘Big Blue Family’ reaches out to help struggling families through ‘Operation Santa’

Roger Coda
bag of Christmas presents

Efforts to help brighten Christmas for local families through the U.S. Postal Service’s 'Operation Santa' are getting a hefty boost from Fredonia’s Big Blue Family.

Head Men’s and Women’s Swimming and Diving Coach Astrid Escobar and Melena DeBoe, a junior from Findley Lake majoring in Communication: Media Management, launched a grassroots campaign last week to assist needy families by adopting local “Dear Santa” letters.

“The USPS’s 'Operation Santa' has been around for a few years now, but this is the first year it became open for anyone in the country to adopt letters,” Coach Escobar explained. She read some of these letters a year ago, and wanted to get involved this year.

While many letters include lists of toys, Escobar described some as “devastating,” disclosing heartbreaking stories of financial struggle that a family has experienced during the past year. These letters reveal the toll that the coronavirus pandemic has had on children and their families.

Escobar cites one letter, written by a 10-year-old, that discloses a “rough time” his family is having with bills and a need for the internet so he can study at home. For another youngster, the “one biggest thing” needed is for the family to get along, saying, “It’s been hard for me and my mom the most, so could you please help us out?”

The “ask” Escobar sent out to the campus, with the support of the Division of Enrollment and Student Services, was small – just a donation of $1 – as she was “banking on the widespread participation from students, staff and faculty.” Department of Biology Professor Ted Lee helped get the word out before the email went out.

Escobar wasn’t disappointed; the subsequent generosity from individuals, offices and departments was “truly amazing,” she said. The tally that reached $854 on Friday, Dec. 11, eclipsed the $1,200 goal over the weekend. The average donation was just under $10. Individuals have also offered to serve as letter-writing elves, so the children will receive replies from Santa.

The money will be used to purchase and deliver gifts for the children to alleviate a family’s financial insecurity, Escobar said. Clothes and shoes will be bought, if sizes are given. Cash will not be sent, but specific asks, such as for groceries, will be addressed with gift cards.

“There were a lot of people that jumped on board to help,” Escobar reported. They included as Vice President for Enrollment and Student Services Cedric Howard, who got behind it right away, and students who pushed the message out on social media. Kenny Ynoa, a junior from the Bronx majoring in Criminal Justice, helped rally his teammates on the baseball team, she added. The women’s basketball and softball teams were also very supportive.

A news article in the Observer’s Saturday edition pushed the message beyond the campus. Outside support has also come from the swimming and diving coach at SUNY Cortland, a student from SUNY Geneseo and DeBoe’s family and friends.

“The local post office has been incredibly kind and helpful by facilitating lists of items to purchase since they have access to Santa's mailbox,” Escobar said. “I came across the letters because I ‘looooove’ the USPS.”

Donations will be accepted through Friday, Dec. 18, and can be sent to Escobar’s campus office in Steele Hall. Checks are to be made out to Astrid Escobar. Donations can also be sent via Venmo to @stridscobar and @Melena-DuBoe.

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