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Hillyard Santa grateful for community’s help

It looks like Hillyard’s Santa, Clyde Decker, won’t be retiring any time soon.

In a joyful progress report on Christmas Eve, he marveled at the generosity of Voice readers helping his one-man Christmas gift drive to help low-income families.

“In 2008, we reached 218 families, with gifts for 558 of their kids,” Decker said. “This year we hoped we could get to 750 kids, but by Halloween, it looked like we’d never make it.”

The Voice published a Vocal Point story about Decker’s discouraged efforts in early November, bringing attention to the drive. Decker’s daughter Bonnie Rosco called local media outlets, so Hillyard’s Santa was on local TV stations KXLY and KREM, with additional spots on the Northwest Cable News Network. Readers and viewers started to respond with cash and toys.

Hillyard Santa and helpers put gloom behind them when donations beat all predictions, with gifts for 1,755 children of 563 families.

Private donations (which Decker keeps confidential to protect donors) came from all over the Inland Northwest. “From Hayden, Idaho, to Hartline, Wash., from north at Elk and Newport to the far end of the South Hill, checks and toys piled into Ma Barker’s,” Decker said.

Lynn Moore and Bobie Lassiter run Ma Barker’s Restaurant at 5012 N. Market St. They volunteered their café as a collection point for donations for kids in north Spokane. Decker credited businesses like the Hillyard Bank of America, which served as distribution point for gifts and where employees donated cash and set up a table, tree and decorations to encourage the spirit of the event.

The Olive Garden Restaurant’s 2009 “adoption” of Clyde Decker’s kids resulted in more than 100 toys donated.

Spokane’s White Elephant store loaded Decker’s old pickup four times with gifts for the drive, provided at a minimal charge.

Pawn One stores donated $500 in gift certificates to parents of the kids in the Hillyard Santa program. And Hillyard’s Walgreens Drug store provided its employee discount on toys, watches and other merchandise.

Dozens of other firms and individuals dropped off cash, checks and new toys at Ma Barker’s restaurant. The local Wal-Mart store donated a gift card for toys to Hillyard Santa, as the first donation toward the 2010 community effort.

Decker credits the Voice’s November Hillyard Santa story with renewing the public’s interest and offers thanks to everyone who passed the word or responded to his calls for assistance.