Even before Ramona Jenkins of Brave moved in with her future husband, John, in 1991, she said he liked to play Santa Claus every year at Christmas Since his passing on September 27, 2017, she’s organized a toy drive as a way of working through her grief and keeping his legacy alive.
Knowing his fondness for portraying Kris Kringle, she bought a Santa Claus suit pattern a year after they married and had the home economics teacher at the Margaret Bell Miller Middle School make one for him.
Every year after, he donned the suit and played Santa at places like the Special Olympics Christmas party, veterans clubs, schools, senior centers and the West
Penn Burn Center in Pittsburgh. Owner of a big white beard, he fit the image and headed out in his suit, boots, bells and Santa bag to brighten up the lives of area
“He believed children should have the ability to escape the cruelty of the world by fantasizing,” Ramona said. “The children would sit on a chair beside him and tell him what they wanted for Christmas, and he never accepted money for what he did.”
To surprise the children and make the Santa experience more authentic, Ramona would stand next to the children in line and ask them questions like their names and what they were expecting Santa to bring them. She then relayed the information to her husband via an earphone he wore. When he addressed them by name, they were shocked to see that he magically knew who they were.
“He was astute enough never to tell them they would get what they wanted,” Ramona said.
A former methane power plant operator at North West Fuels Development, John Jenkins even managed his annual Santa visits the Christmas after he suffered third-degree burns over a third of his body after a gas explosion. According to Ramona, immediately following the July 2004 incident in Blacksville, West Virginia, John drove 12 miles to the Clay Battelle Health Center, where he was rushed by ambulance to Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown, then life flighted to the burn center in Pittsburgh.
“That Christmas he devised a way to run air tubing through his Santa suit and pressure garments to keep himself cool, but he was no longer able to pick the kids up because his hands were so badly burned,” Ramona said. “Because of his experiences at the burn center, he always tried to go there as Santa at Christmas if there were children present.”
Ramona still has John’s Santa suit, which she keeps in a closet at her home. Some time down the road, she’s hoping one of her two sons will step into their father’s shoes (make that boots) and keep his Christmas tradition alive.
With this year’s holiday season in mind, she started a toy, gift card and monetary contribution drive in October and posted her plan on Facebook. So far she’s raised not only over $1,000 worth of new and slightly used toys for needy children between the ages of 0 and 17 but also a total of $910 from “friends, friends of friends and word-of-mouth,” she said. The fundraiser will continue through December 15.
One of the biggest contributors to the toy drive is VKS Lambchops, the youth group at the Brave Charge of the United Methodist Church in Spraggs, who’ve gathered up their own toys and bought new ones for the campaign. Ramona is also buying new toys with the financial donations she’s received.
“Currently, the toys are neatly stacked and taking over my bedroom,” she said. “I plan to start distributing them to parents of children I’ve been referred to after I volunteer for Toys for Tots the weekend of December 16. I have a list of about 20 children who will get at least 2 or 3 new toys as well as some gently used ones.”
If she continues the toy drive next year she said wants to make it bigger and better in memory of her husband.
“I might even add coats for needy children as well as the toys I plan to give to them,” she said.
For those who may want to contribute toys, gift cards or money, toy drop off sites are located at the VFW in Waynesburg, Buddy’s Bar and Motel in Waynesburg and Outstanding in the Woods on Greene Street in Waynesburg on Monday,Tuesday and Wednesday only. Those wanting to send gift cards can mail them to her directly at 295 Oak Forest Road, Brave, Pa. 15316.
For more information, phone 724-451-8446.