LOWELL | Most people think Santa and his elves reside at the North Pole, but residents of Lowell know better.
Businessman JR Mitsch and his family and friends have been bringing Christmas cheer to area families for five years, and their sleigh gets larger every year.
"I started out helping two families at Christmas time and the one year in church I thought I needed to do something to help more kids. With the help of JR’S Custom Cabinets customers, friends and family, we raised $11,000 that first year and helped over 300 kids," Mitsch recalled.
"This year, we had a goal of $38,000 and collected over $40,000, and we took care of 1,720 kids so they would have clothes and toys to open on Christmas."
Santa and His Elves Inc. is now a nonprofit group recognized by the State of Indiana and the IRS as a 501(c) (3) organization, making all contributions tax-deductible.
More than 40 volunteers helped shop and set up this year, as well as walking parents though the dazzling array of available gifts arranged on tables for two days of "shopping" at Mitsch's rural Lowell cabinet workshop, from toy trucks to shoes.
"People came from over an 80-mile radius. They were sending me emails that they wished their state or town did this; I replied that anyone who won’t be able to buy gifts for their kids this year is welcome," Mitsch said.
"It’s hard for some just to get gas money to come. A lot had friends bring them. Some told me we helped them last year and they didn’t need help this year, so they brought others that needed help.
"There are a lot of tears after they tell you their story . . .some said they weren’t going to have Christmas this year, and their kids didn’t even bring it up because they know how hard it was for their parents.
"Our mission is to provide warm clothes and a toy for children in need, however, if you’ve had the opportunity to volunteer, you know it goes beyond that. Through Santa and His Elves, the true meaning of Christmas is awakened inside each and every one of us.
"This makes my Christmas every year. . .I never dreamed it would grow into helping this many. I’m thinking of expanding to other towns (to) show and help others to do the same.
"But I couldn’t do it without the help of my committee and volunteers," added Mitsch, who serves on the nonprofit group's board with Shawn McCarthy, Cheryl Gibson, Maggie Augustson, Lisa Pavlopoulos and Marilyn Bennett.
"Since our first event in 2009, we have raised a total of $103,000 and helped bless over 3,200 families with a Merry Christmas."
Contact Mitsch at firstname.lastname@example.org and visit www.santaandhiselves.com to read some of the thank you letters received by Santa and His Elves.