By Mark Waite
Parents who tire of Christmas shopping and addressing holiday cards can take some consolation knowing they don’t have to wrap presents for 191 children and personally write a Christmas card to each one.
That was the count as of last Sunday, when members of the Pahrump Valley Lions Club gathered at the home of Larry and Sue Bai to wrap presents for the Letters to Santa program that were stacked up in much of the dining room.
This is the 10th year Larry Bai has read the letters to Santa and organized the gift giving, for whom a home in the Desert Trails subdivision substitutes for the North Pole and Lions Club volunteers act as elves.
The huge mailbox in front of the main Pahrump post office is for letters to Santa, but Bai said they can be dropped in any mailbox.
“They can put it in any mailbox as long as it’s addressed to Santa, Mrs. Claus, the reindeer, or North Pole. Anything along that line I get it,” Bai said.
He said there were more than 191 letters received, but another 25 to 30 letters can’t be answered.
“We get some that are over the age limit, because it’s up to and including 12 years old, they don’t put an address on it or there’s no phone number, there’s no way I can track them down,” Bai said.
The Lions received about $500 in contributions by cash and check, Bai said, with the promise of a matching contribution. The Pahrump Valley Cruisers made a donation as did a couple of local residents.
He estimated Walmart donated about $1,500 to $2,000 worth of gifts. Every child will be getting a present.
“We’ll get them fulfilled even though the donations are down. The last couple years with the economy and all it’s been bad for everybody up here,” Bai said.
The most common requests are the usual Barbie dolls and other dolls for girls, the boys like Legos, Hot Wheels and remote-controlled vehicles that top the lists every year, he said.
Bai said he didn’t receive any sad requests this year, like a child wishing for a job for parents, but there were some weird requests that are being kept confidential. Larry and Sue Bai read the letters, unless he has a question about a particular toy a child is asking for, Bai said the letters are kept confidential.
Volunteers pick up the toys Walmart picks out from the store. Sue Bai, a local banking executive, takes care of whatever shopping is left.
This Santa and his elves didn’t wait until Christmas Eve to deliver the presents, they were delivered to the homes starting on Wednesday. The volunteers, dressed as elves, had to explain to the kids Santa is so busy, they were starting to deliver presents early.
Bai brought the Letters to Santa program over with him when he moved to Pahrump from Victorville, Calif. The first year, in 2002, there were only 35 letters. That mushroomed to the peak year with over 700 letters in 2009. Bai was featured in an article in The Los Angeles Times in 2008.
Santa checks a list generated by computer to help keep track of all the children, their presents and addresses.
Letters to Santa kicked off with a Breakfast With Santa at Pahrump Valley Auto Plaza Dec. 1. Bai said General Manager Sheldon Feddy has already agreed to host the event again next year.
“As long as we get the community support we’ll continue to do it,” Bai said.
In the meantime, he said, “I expect the mail boxes to be packed Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Everybody’s going to realize, ‘oh wait! Next week is Christmas.’”