For Karen DiCarlo, that thought is "the nightmare before Christmas." Good thing Karen, president and head elf at Santa Claus Inc. in San Bernardino, is surrounded by hundreds of dedicated volunteer helpers. "Our wonderful volunteers do their best to make sure that no child in our community feels left out at Christmas," says Karen, herself a lifetime volunteer who's been helping others since her Girl Scout days. "Santa Claus definitely has some of the most dedicated and talented volunteers anywhere. There is absolutely no way to even estimate how many thousands of hours are dedicated to San Bernardino's grand old charity every year," she says.
Ellie Moran, 87 years young, has been working for Santa Claus Inc. since 1976. She has made and donated an estimated 600-700 handmade receiving blankets, 20-30 handmade quilts, innumerable handcrafted stuffed animals and toys, children's pillows and baby rattles. During one month this year, she donated 150 receiving blankets. "I've always worked hard - all my life," Ellie says. "Donating my time is selfish of me. At age 87, you need something to do besides sitting in a chair and watching TV." A former teacher at Lighthouse for the Blind, Ellie taught macram and basket weaving. "I'm very crafty," she says. "It's a gift God gave me. I want to share it. No one's quite sure how long Laura Parsons has been making exquisite dolls' clothes for Santa Claus Inc. - not even Laura. The consensus is it's been "a very long time." She donates hundreds of outfits for purchased dolls every year - playsuits, dresses, nightgowns, all beautifully finished with touches of lace and tiny buttons. Regina Henry has been knitting cardigan sweaters for Santa Claus Inc. for more than a decade. She knits more than 100 every year that incorporate scraps of yarn into wonderful designs. "I thought Susie Seavers (knitting chairman) wanted cardigans, and it makes her happy, so that's why I've kept knitting," Regina says. Norma Savell, who has sewn for the children's clothing department for many years, makes T-shirts, skirts, shorts and pants, using bolt after bolt of double-knit material. She also stops by the warehouse frequently to make repairs on articles of kids' clothing. The list goes on and on. This large host of Santa's Helpers sews, knits, crochets, quilts and mends throughout the year for the one week each December when an ordinary San Bernardino warehouse serves as the North Pole. It is here that the magic happens. The handmade gifts, along with donated books and toys and contributions from the community, jam the warehouse so that invited parents and grandparents can go "Christmas shopping" to make the holidays a little brighter for their children.
Christmas is 242 days away, but already the Helpers are helping. Some, now in their 80s, may take a little longer to thread a needle. "A lot of our volunteers are 70-somethings," Karen says. "Age doesn't seem to slow them down at all. If you're a positive person - like our volunteers - age doesn't matter."
Karen is hoping some enthusiastic younger people will join the old masters because "down the road, we'll need younger people to step in," she says, adding that "knitting and quilting are becoming a younger thing to do."
Enter the Knitting and Quilting Retreat. "The Knitting and Quilting Retreat will be held April at Golden Bear Cottages in Big Bear Lake," says Karen, who owns the resort with her husband, Don and her children Lisa and Lenny. Complimentary accommodations for retreat guests will be provided by the DiCarlos at Golden Bear Cottages. "We will train people, but they have to RSVP to the Golden Bear Cottages lodge at (909) 866-2010," Karen says. A Welcome Luncheon is set for 1 p.m. Accommodations will be provided for individuals and couples, and baby-sitting will be provided for a nominal fee. "The only costs involved will be for lunch on the first two days. All cabins have kitchens, so attendees can either cook or go out to eat for the other meals," Karen says. "We would like to make this an annual event. This is a wonderful, restful place." Yarn, knitting and crochet needles and quilting materials will be provided by Santa Claus Inc. Van transportation to and from the retreat will be provided from the Santa Claus Inc. warehouse at 824 E. Sixth St., San Bernardino. Says Karen, "This is about the human spirit. The Santa Claus organization literally raises many of its own life-long volunteers from the time they are very young, which makes it very unique - one of the things that makes it so very special." These are the faces of Christmas - all year long.