Every year on Dec. 25, Santa Claus delivers gifts to children all over the world. For some children, the thing they most want and need is the thing their parents can’t afford, the expensive medical bills required to make them well.
Here, Erica Runyan, 19, of Silverdale and her mother, Adrienne, step in to give Santa a hand.
In 2010, the Runyans started their Letters from Santa campaign to raise money for the Uncompensated Care Fund at Seattle Children’s Hospital.
The Uncompensated Care Fund helps cover the medical expenses of children whose families couldn’t otherwise afford life-saving treatment.
Participants pay $8 for one, $15 for two or $21 for three letters from Santa to the recipients of their choosing. The letters are customized to each recipient based on information such as desired gifts and personal accomplishments.
“It’s all customized like Santa mysteriously knows what their best friend’s name is,” Adrienne said.
On Dec. 8, the last letters are accepted and shipped to Fairbanks, Alaska, where they receive a North Pole postmark. Kids then receive their personal letter from Santa, and children in need receive the proceeds through the Uncompensated Care Fund.
The first year Erica, then 17, attempted Letters from Santa it didn’t go as well as she might have hoped. They received only about 20 letters that year, but Erica was undeterred, and next year they brought in more than 200 letters, 10 times the previous winter.
This year the Runyans hope to once again shatter the turnout of their previous effort by receiving more than 1,000 letters.
In order to help with their undertaking, they’ve added an extra twist to this year’s fundraiser – an east versus west competition.
“We’re trying to get the east side interested in doing a little friendly competition with the west,” Adrienne said.
Erica is in her second year at Washington State University in Pullman. She has been working with Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital in Spokane. Adrienne has continued working with their original beneficiary, Seattle Children’s Hospital.
“We thought it would be really fun if we had a competition between mother and daughter, Sacred Heart versus Seattle Children’s, east versus west,” Erica said.
Contributions from people on the west side will go to Seattle Children’s and those from the east side will go to Sacred Heart.
Both Erica and Adrienne believe the west is currently beating the east, but as the Huskies can no doubt attest, a lead against the east can vanish quickly.
Lydia Seabron bought three letters last year, two for her kids and one for her husband.
“My daughter thought it was really special,” Seabron said. “She was excited and was thrilled that she got something special from Santa.”
Seabron’s daughter was 3 years old at the time. Now, one year older, her daughter not only thinks Santa can communicate with them via mail, she believes he can be reached by phone.
Even the North Pole does not appear to be immune to the ever-increasing communication network.
“I sort of implanted (the idea) when I told her I was calling him for his quarterly report,” Seabron said.
Apparently even Santa has shareholders to think about.
For Deborah Horn, Letters from Santa was a fun gift idea for her children that she also thought helped a good cause. Her motive may have been slightly different from Seabron’s.
“My kids are adults. They’re not little kids, and it was a fun kind of unique gift to send them,” Horn said.
For Erica, her own joy at receiving a letter from Santa as a child helped guide her efforts fundraising.
“I wanted to share the joy I had when I was young, too,” Erica said.
Erica has been recognized by a number of Kitsap County organizations for her work within the community.
“She’s got a really good heart and (is) very passionate about children’s charities,” Adrienne said.
Erica is in the premed program at school. She originally wanted specialize in neonatology (caring for newborn infants).
But Erica claimed her heart may be shifting toward being a dietitian, “working with kids in exercise science, teaching them how to eat properly and how to exercise properly,” she said.
No matter where she ends up, Erica said she knows she wants to work with children.
When Erica was in her early teens, she visited her aunt, Adrienne’s sister, who happened to be a neonatal nurse.
“My sister took her to work and she got to go into the neonatal unit there, and saw these tiny little babies attached to tubes and struggling for life,” Adrienne said.
Some of the incubators and medical bills in that care unit were being paid for by uncompensated care.
“When she found out she could make a difference, she was on board,” Adrienne said.
Two years later, Erica held her Dinner for The Kids Baked Ziti sale and raised more than $2,000.
Since then she has raised more than $10,000 dollars for children through various fundraisers such as the annual Miracle Trail Run, The Great Kitsap Pasta Feed and Letters From Santa.
Erica said she is passionate about kids, especially those who don’t have the same opportunities as her. Letters from Santa is one step in the direction toward giving opportunity to many of those children.
This Dec. 25, when kids at Seattle Children’s and Sacred Heart unwrap gifts from their parents or from Santa, there will be one more gift from the Runyans and all those who donated, the gift of uncompensated care.