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OCARC gets Santa after two years

By Dawn Burleigh

The Orange Leader

 

Yes, OCARC, there is a Santa Claus. 

For the client’s at OCARC Sign & Engraving, Santa was a man in a red suit with a white beard. For others, it was Terrie Salter, City of Orange Council member and Orange Lion.

Salter was picking up a sign on Monday when she asked if Santa was going to visit soon.

It was during that visit Salter found out the Santa who had visited the clients in the past had passed away two years ago and no one had stepped in to fill his shoes as yet.

For Salter, this would not do at all.

She set out to find a Santa and make sure each client would receive a gift. She visited with businesses and posted them on Facebook.

The response was overwhelming.

Thursday morning, the clients gathered for a party expecting punch and cookies. Instead, a ‘sleigh’ in the shape of a white stretch limousine picked up Santa Claus and his elves from Lamar State College-Orange and headed to OCARC Thursday morning bearing gifts and stockings to make the clients day a little brighter.

As the sleigh arrived, the clients gathered outside and giggled as one elf after another stepped out of the car. Then, the surprise of, “Santa!”

OCARC was founded in 1956, as a workshop-based business, by parents who saw a need to teach life skills to their adult children with special needs.  

The “employees” who make the signs and trophies are actually OCARC’s clients, developmentally disabled adults numbering now around 44, who receive vocational training by making these items, with special focus on social and cognitive skills.

As a non-profit, OCARC relies on sales of their items and help from United Way in order to provide these services, and an annual fundraiser in the form of their annual fishing tournament, known as the OCARC Annual Fishing Tournament, always held the first weekend in August.  

“I happen to be picking up a sign I had made and had an opportunity to speak to a few clients.  They were all excited because Santa would soon be visiting them,” Salter wrote in a Facebook post. “Yes, these men and women still believe in Santa Claus, because they are our special needs women and men of our community.  Their cognitive abilities usually range from eight years old to around 12 years old, yet because of their age, they tend to be forgotten because they do not meet the age requirements for most holiday events throughout the city.  We often tend to give out food baskets to the elderly and give toy drives for ages 13 years of age and younger.”

Salter asked Director Sandy if Santa would be stopping by soon.

“I had an opportunity to ask Director Sandy if Santa would be coming up there and that is when she explained to me that the gentleman who had graced the building as Santa passed away and that they had not had one for two years,” Salter said. “That is when I asked her if she would like to have one.  She said she would be thrilled if I could do it.  I told her that I would do no best to get her one.”

Not only was Santa found, but he also agreed to do it every year, according to Salter.

 “So, I reached out to my Lion Brother Butch Campbell, who often takes on the role of Santa during the Christmas Holidays,” Salter added. “He was thrilled and accepted the task.  I had some time to think and decided to call him back to give them a little more.  I suggested Santa give out gifts and that’s when he said he would work on his end while I work on my end.”

If one looks closely, they can spot staff from Lamar State College-Orange under those elf hats.

People as far as Houston and Pennsylvania contacted Salter to give toward the event and an approximately $1000 was raised towards the event. 

“Thanks to Terrie who found out there was no Santa or party and now here we are,” Sandy said, “This has touched our hearts.”

John Thomas, who has worked at OCARC for 46 years, said, “This is fantastic. Terrie started this on Monday. We never expected this, and the clients love it!”

Thomas said the clients have a way of brightening up anyone’s day.

“I always say, if you’re having a bad day, just stop by,” Thomas added. “One of the clients will strike your heart and make your day better.”

Meanwhile, each client was patiently waiting for their turn to talk with Santa. While in line, others could hear the giggles of innocence and comments such as, “He is really here!” and “Santa is so cute!”