In 1931 a young child, 8 years old, was told there wouldn’t be any Christmas presents for her. The Great Depression had taken its tole on Northern Ohio and her father was out of work. The little girl confided the heartbreaking news to her pastor of the Brownhelm Congregational Church.
When Reverend Ralph Albright learned that children in his parish would not have a Christmas, he assembled members of three churches in Brownhelm Township. Together they created a plan for Santa to visit families in need, bringing food and gifts.
No family was untouched by the hard times of the Great Depression, so they did what they could. Old and broken toys were donated from the attics of local families. They were repaired, painted and polished by volunteers. The church basement was transformed into a toy shop. Local women repaired old dolls and crafted new ones. Old clothes were mended. Farmers donated apples, ciders, squash and potatoes. Monetary donations were collected in a cigar box at the Brownhelm Store, a total of $16.90, allowing for the purchase of oranges and candy. Santa suits were made from red and white flannel.
Volunteers wrapped, packed and labeled the gifts. At dusk on the morning of December 24th, six Santas affixed their beards with spirit gum and began delivering the packages around the township.
The following year the volunteer committee reassembled and decided to continue the project. The volunteers agreed that every home would be included so that no family would be singled out as “poor”. The Community Christmas with Santa Claus had been established, and continues each year to this day.
There were only 12 homes in the township when the tradition began, now there are 900. 20 Santas visit all homes in Old Brownhelm, the area originally served by the Brownhelm School before it was consolidated with Firelands Schools. Every child under 10 receives a gift; those up to age 14 receive candy and fruit. Seniors citizens are gifted with a half-peck basket of fruit. Cards are sent out to everyone serving in the military. Anyone who might go without Christmas dinner discreetly receives food packages.
Letters are sent to Brownhelm Township families in November explaining the Community Christmas tradition with instructions on how to receive a Santa visit. The area is divided into routes; each route with a chairman to compile a list of each recipient’s name and age.
The Brownhelm Community Christmas Santa visits have become an integral part of the season for Brownhelm residents. Organizers rely solely on donations; they do not solicit businesses but local businesses donate fruit and solicit donations. Volunteers drive Santa from house to house, wrap gifts, assemble fruit baskets, pack candy into bags, and help the Santas get dressed on Christmas Eve.
The legacy of a little girl, whose heartbreaking plea touched an entire community, has far outlived her.