The Spirit of Christmas, Dec. 3 Fundraiser

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For many, the Spirit of Christmas is a frame of mind. To Jim and Sharon Jamieson, however, it is a time to raise funds and assist with shopping, to ensure the area’s neediest children and families enjoy a special holiday! Their annual “The Spirit of Christmas” fundraiser is at the American Legion Post #274 at 899 Buttonwood Drive on San Carlos Island on Tuesday, December 3, from 5 to 10 p.m.

“Even though we host ‘The Spirit of Christmas’ at the American Legion Post, please remember the fundraiser is open to everyone and not just Legion members,” stressed Sharon. “We offer live music from DAZ, with dancing, a delicious dinner, cash bar and of course our Silent Auction and 50/50 raffles. The ‘Sons of the American Legion’ prepare the dinner they sell for roughly $10. That begins at 5 p.m. and continues until they sell out, and they always sell out because every year we have a full house! There is no admission fee, so we hope everyone comes out to enjoy a great party and participate in our Silent Auction.”

“This is our 16th year hosting ‘The Spirit of Christmas,’” Jim stated. “Even though admission is free, we make our money off the fantastic Silent Auction items, as well as generous donations by a few people who love us, for $5,000; $3,000; and $1,000 respectively. The roughly 65 Silent Auction items, ranging from beach resort hotel stays to golf course gift certificates to dining cards for some of the area’s most popular restaurants, brings in another $10,000 to $15,000 so we end up with $20,000 to $25,000 to spend on the kids and families.”

The List of Names

Sharon coordinates the list of recipients and shopping day. “I started out working with Head Start counselors, then branched out to Golisano Children’s Hospital, especially their cancer patients, and as word continues to spread, we now hear from schools about their students. I then contact the families to ensure they truly need our help and learn their number of children, then arrange for them to meet us to shop at the Super Walmart on Colonial Boulevard about a week before Christmas.” “You must see it to believe it,” Jim laughed! “Families come throughout the entire day, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. It is such a never-ending line of people that Walmart assigns us our own cash register and cashier!”

“When families arrive, they don’t know how much they can spend,” explained Sharon. “I give them the dollar figure, then tell them to fill a shopping cart with the gifts they need to match that total, then I meet them at the cash register to pay. If they have money left, I say to go back and pick out something else. Since we shop so close to Christmas, most items are on sale, and as we are a charitable organization, there is no sales tax, so we get the biggest bang for our bucks! Once we pay, we have wrapping paper and bows they can take home to make their presents more festive. We ask if they have a Christmas Tree and for those who don’t, we arrange for them to obtain one along with decorations as Christmas gifts should be under a Christmas Tree and people love that!”

A shopping day highlight for Sharon is meeting the families. “We spoke over the telephone but this is the one time we see everyone face-to-face! They can spend some of the money on food, but no tobacco or alcohol. Inevitably, there are tears, as even though we arrange shopping with them, many people don’t actually believe what we do is for real, and they truly won’t have to pay anything at the cashier, and then the crying begins. Around this time, I tell them there is actually a price they must pay, and the skeptical ones say, ‘I knew it,’ but when they learn it is to give me a hug and wish each other ‘Merry Christmas,’ everyone happily agrees!”

Sharon stated, “Walmart is wonderful to work with every year, as we find families can get whatever they need from there, ranging from food to bicycles to all the toys. Everyone does not receive the same amount of money, though, as one big determining factor is the number of children per family; those with five kids get more than those with just one.”

Every Penny to Kids & Families

“It all started 16 years ago,” recollected Jim. “It was about three days before Christmas and we were shopping, when it suddenly occurred to Sharon and I we really didn’t need anything, so we asked the manager if he could recommend a family to us, and he said they had a girl there with two kids who weren’t going to get anything for Christmas, so I pulled $200 out of my pocket and gave it to her! That was the very beginning and now we help roughly 160 families and 250 children every year.”

If you cannot attend on December 3 but want to contribute, call Jim directly at 239-940-4236. “Remember we don’t actually shop until about two weeks after the fundraiser, so you still have time to donate. We stress to all contributors that we undergo a comprehensive annual audit, to ensure that every penny goes to the kids and families.”

As if 16 years of holiday fundraising and shopping were not enough, Jim and Sharon are investigating a new program. “We hope to soon announce what we are calling an ‘Angel Home,’ he exclaimed! “We are still working out the details, but the idea is to help a few local families make a down payment on a home, with affordable mortgage payments over 10 years to eventually own their own house!”

Because We Can

For Jim, the best part of “The Spirit of Christmas” is simple: “That we are able to do it! People ask me that many times over the years and the answer never becomes more complicated – we do it because we can!” Sharon’s favorite aspect “is the shopping day! Kids and families tell us how much this means to them, and that there would not be a Christmas without us. You can’t believe what an equally happy and sad moment that truly is, though when the tears start, I always emphasize they are happy ones and the people agree, with hugs all around, so that is my reward! Jim and I are never in their homes on Christmas morning, of course, but I would give almost anything to be a fly on the wall when the kids discover their presents and the unwrapping begins!”

Jim and Sharon are now in their 70s. “Occasionally,” Sharon said, “we wonder if it is either time to end ‘The Spirit of Christmas’ or look for someone else younger to hand it off to, but then we receive ‘Thank You Cards’ from the Head Start or school counselors, who pass along the heartfelt feelings from the families, and we remember the smiles and tears of those we help, so that is why we still do what we do!”