Lifestyle

The Backstage Santas of Friday Harbor: These volunteers make St. Nick's job a little easier

From top, John Bostrom collects donated gift items from Serendipity, The Used Book Place, The Toy Box, and Osito
From top, John Bostrom collects donated gift items from Serendipity, The Used Book Place, The Toy Box, and Osito's. Bostrom collected so many toys that at the Leo Club meeting prior to the Santa Ship's arrival, there was an extra call for gift bag-stuffing volunteers.
— image credit: Jane K. Fox / San Juan Journal

Friday Harbor is a town of hidden Santas. They are not identifiable by red suits or white beards, but they are here nonetheless.

The Santa who stood in the Thrift House on Dec. 3, for example, was a Red Sox fan and drove a pickup truck. And his name was John, not Nick.

"Are you looking for toys"?

John Bostrom, supervisor for the Leo Club and chief facilitator of the Santa Ship, looked up. "You bet," he smiled.

The Santa Ship is the popular event that lands Friday Harbor firmly in the festive season. However, the one afternoon of gifts and goodwill are the product of days of preparation. The Santa who sails into the harbor represents a host of backstage organizers and gift givers.

Some Santas are planned and scheduled. Bostrom himself spent two weeks collecting the toy donations for the Santa Ship gift bags. These donations were drawn from Friday Harbor stores Osito's and The Toy Box, Serendipity The Used Book Place, and The Thrift House. Oranges came from King's. Bostrom also used Facebook to encourage individual donations.

Patty Willis, owner of Osito's, passed her donation box to Bostrom two days before the event. Since the Santa Ship provides gifts for children age infant to 7 years, time was taken to ensure there were appropriate presents for each age. Surrounded by Osito's varied gallery of playthings, Willis talked about toys with as much professionalism as any Santa.

"You had a few holes in your selection," she said, explaining how there were too few items for certain age groups. Her careful attention to righting this balance resulted in a bright boxful of goods that made Bostrom exclaim thanks.

Some Santas, however, are accidental. Like the woman who saw Bostrom collecting books from The Thrift House and asked him if he was looking for toys. Still smiling at this unexpected luck, Bostrom followed the woman, introduced as Vicky, to her car where she drew out an enormous stuffed bear.

"My daughter is cleaning out her room," she explained. Vicky and Bostrom made plans for him to come collect another bundle. "There's more where that came from," she laughed.

These everyday Santas are what make Bostrom speak so warmly of the San Juan Island community. In spite of the economy, "We have received so much stuff this year," he said. "That's the beauty of this place." He mentioned how, even when things go wrong with the event, community generosity saves the day. For example, last year Santa ran out of toys but, Bostrom said, "some of the older kids decided to give their toys back so everyone could have something."

However, there was no dearth of gift bags this year. Bostrom collected so many toys that at the Leo Club meeting prior to the Santa Ship's arrival, there was an extra call for gift bag-stuffing volunteers. Bostrom was not disappointed on the day.

"We had six volunteers: Megan Cuomo, Kyle Skoog, William King, Meli Hickenbottom, Fei Cooper and Josh Buck," he said. Although children arrived to see Santa at 6 p.m., these volunteers had been there since 4, decorating and stuffing bags.

"It was very well attended," Bostrom said later. "Chaos of course, but everyone seemed to be happy."

Santa may have been the main event, but it took a great many more people to make the event happen. So, with the evening wrapped up, the hidden Santas slipped back into Friday Harbor. They are not obvious, but they are there, bringing Christmas to the island.

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