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Santa letters make Christmas brighter for underprivileged

Gloria Bridges, left, and Kristin Caso are approaching their eighth Christmas working together in the “Make a Wish Come True with a Letter to Santa” program, designed to provide a “Santa Claus Christmas” for abused or neglected children at Liberty House and The Bridge.

Gloria Bridges, left, and Kristin Caso are approaching their eighth Christmas working together in the “Make a Wish Come True with a Letter to Santa” program, designed to provide a “Santa Claus Christmas” for abused or neglected children at Liberty House and The Bridge.

ALBANY — For nearly eight years now, Gloria Bridges and Kristin Caso have been helping to bring a real “Santa” kind of Christmas to kids whose lives haven’t been so easy.

In a program called “Make a Wish Come True with a Letter to Santa,” the two women help facilitate a system where individuals may select a form-created “letter to Santa” written by a child residing at The Bridge or Liberty House. The letter will contain a short list of items the child wants or needs, along with his or her clothing and shoe sizes.

The “donor Santa” then fills the list in time for Christmas and brings the gifts to the Albany Parks and Recreation Department’s administrative offices at 1301 N. Monroe St. The gifts are wrapped, if necessary, Bridges said, and delivered to either The Bridge or Liberty House.

“We wear little Santa caps when we deliver them, even though we never actually see the kids,” Caso said. “There are confidentiality issues so we can’t have any contact with the children. We know how much this means to them, though, because of what the agencies tell us.”

The program got its start in 2004 when Mildred Green, Bridges’ supervisor at the Thornton Community Center, found a similar program in another community on the Internet.

“(Green) told me we should start doing it here,” Bridges said. “I had a friendly relationship with Kristin already, and the two of us have been doing it ever since.”

Caso is special events and marketing coordinator for the Albany Parks and Recreations Department.

Response to the program has grown, according to Caso, with total letters “filled” each year now between 40 and 60. When the letter forms, along with any words to Santa, are completed, they are taken to the recreation department and from there interested individuals, families or businesses may select from them to be filled.

“So far we’ve been able to fill 100 percent of the letters we’ve been given. We make sure of that,” Caso said. “There have been some times we’ve done some of them ourselves or people in the office filled some letters.”

According to Bridges and Caso, this year’s Santa program has had an encouraging start. On the first day, 15 letters were selected to be filled — five each from two separate families, and five from an unidentified business.

“We’ve never had that happen in one day before,” Bridges said. “One of the families said their plan was to help others this year, rather than to think about their own Christmas.”

According to organization material, The Bridge accommodates children from birth to 18 years of age, providing a safe and structured environment for them and allowing time for them “to heal and grow.” Most of the children are confirmed cases of abuse and neglect.

Liberty House, established in Albany in 1981, provides comprehensive services for victims of domestic violence, their children, families and friends. According to Silke Deeley, director of Liberty House, the great majority of victims receiving services have young children.

“A lot of these kids come to The Bridge or to Liberty House with nothing but the clothes on their backs,” Caso said. “They have nothing at all. Many have never had a real Christmas their whole lives, and it’s special to them that someone somewhere cares enough to give them one.”

Caso said anyone interested in the Make a Wish Come True with a Letter to Santa program should call her at (229) 430-5222 or Bridges at (229) 430-5242.