It’s been 22 years, but Adrian Gonzalez still remembers the Christmas when the Chicago Sun-Times’ Letters to Santa program left an indelible impression on his life.
Gonzalez was an 8-year-old student at Jungman Elementary School in Pilsen when he wrote a letter to Santa for a class assignment.
Gonzalez asked Santa for a Mighty Morphin Power Rangers toy. He also asked Santa to please bring something for his soon-to-be-born baby sister, who was due the following month.
On the day of his school’s big holiday party, the students gathered together and were called up one-by-one to receive their presents.
When his turn came, Gonzalez excitedly collected his gift — the blue Power Ranger, Billy, in ninja apparel, just as he’d requested.
But it’s what came next that made this a special memory.
“I got called up a second time,” said Gonzalez, recalling how it “seemed strange” to be singled out that way because nobody else received a second present.
It turned out Santa had brought a gift for his baby sister, too.
“I was so shocked,” Gonzalez recalled, his amazement only slightly tempered by the realization he’d put the request in his letter.
He obviously was too young at the time to realize that one of Santa’s helpers had gone the extra mile for him.
But he knows it now. Which is one of the reasons he is such an enthusiastic participant in the Letters to Santa program with the help of his co-workers at Jump Trading.
Gonzalez, a 2011 graduate of Xavier University, is an office administrator for Jump, one of the world’s largest proprietary trading companies.
He and his colleagues plan this holiday season to fulfill the wishes of 170 students at Catalyst Circle Rock Charter School.
The Austin school is one of at least 81 schools and nonprofits signed up for this year’s Letters to Santa program. Altogether, the Chicago Sun-Times Charity Trust hopes to serve more than 12,000 needy children.
“I was that kid,” Gonzalez told me Friday over coffee.
Gonzalez, 30, of Gage Park, has pleasant memories of all his Christmas celebrations at Jungman, where students gathered around a piano in the hallway to sing carols. But that one year stands out above all others.
“It just takes the one,” he said. “It just takes that one moment that makes it particularly special.”
These days, Gonzalez hopes to help other children make a special memory by coordinating his office’s Letters to Santa effort, as he has the past five years.
Gonzalez starts by reading through all 170 letters from Catalyst students to help decipher the writing as necessary. Then, he organizes the requests into a spreadsheet for better tracking before offering co-workers an opportunity to select a letter.
“For anybody that does this, I want to say thank you,” Gonzalez said. “Whoever gave me a gift 22 years ago, I want to say thank you. I want them to know that I remember it, and I appreciate it. And I spend so much time giving back partly because of that.”
I always enthusiastically endorse this program because I know through my own experience how rewarding it can be.
After you contact us to request one or more of the kids’ letters, our elves will get back to you with the letters, along with a set of instructions — the most important of which is to be sure to deliver your gift to the child’s school by the deadline specified.
Please try to select a gift in the $25-to-$30 price range. We also ask you to wrap the gift.
I can’t promise that 20 years from now a child will remember what you got them. But for this year, you’ll both have a warm feeling inside.