Playing Santa Claus? Expect to be "Regifted"

CALVIN: This whole Santa Claus thing just doesn't make sense. Why all the secrecy? Why all the mystery? If the guy exists, why doesn't he ever show himself and prove it? And if he doesn't exist, what's the meaning of all this?

HOBBES: I dunno. Isn't this a religious holiday?

CALVIN: Yeah, but actually, I've got the same questions about God.  ― Bill Watterson


Seven years ago, Muncie, Ind. businessman Alan Holdren and his wife Chris decided that they did not need anything for Christmas. They had stashed $550 in the sock drawer for their own gifts, but they decided instead to take that money and buy Christmas for a family in need. Since Chris was a teacher at a local high school, she was very aware of both the families with needs and the families that had nothing.

The Holdrens picked one family that they knew would not have Christmas and bought a present or two for each family member. They delivered a lighted Christmas tree, a Bible, a $50 gift card for a Christmas dinner, and said a prayer with the family. Then they went home to spend the day with their two daughters. 

Other people heard about Al and Chris’s idea and approached Al about doing the same thing the next year. Al has a few friends who are principals at local schools, and so he began contacting these folks in November to determine a few families in need.  

The second year, Al, Chris and a few volunteers provided Christmas for nine families. They used the same format from the year before and once the presents were delivered, they all returned home to spend time with their families.

After that Christmas, something amazing started to happen. Al was in a business group and many of the business owners asked to help fund more families. Each year the program, named Secret Families, grew and grew. 

As a board member of this now-official 501(c)3 organization, I am amazed and impressed by the organized chaos that happens the first Saturday of December every year. We recently had more than a thousand volunteers providing Christmas to 176 families. The original format is still the same--with $550 taking care of all the presents and food for the family. They still get a tree, a Bible and prayer, but now there are multiple teams that handle each family.

The day starts at 5 a.m.. Hundreds of people gather at the local Meijer in Muncie and listen as Al tells the story of Secret Families. Most of the “shopping groups” are families or small groups from local churches or businesses. Each shopping group gets a list with information about the family--no names, but information about how many parents, children, their ages and what they need. Clear numbered trash bags are used to collect the gifts, which are purchased from Meijer and loaded into a pick-up truck. As the truck begins to fill with gifts, the vehicle is driven next door to Toyota Scion of Muncie. 

At Toyota, hundreds of people are set up at wrapping stations. The trash bags are unpacked and each gift is wrapped and returned to the numbered bag. Then all the bags marked for each individual family are taken to the loading station in a tent behind the main Toyota building. 

Stage Three is completed by delivery teams that drive to the recipients' homes, pre-marked with a red bow in the days leading up to the event. The families are contacted prior to the event to let them know they have been chosen to allow for a quick delivery.

Once all the families have their gifts, the entire group returns for a meal at Toyota of Muncie, where we tell stories, shed tears and by 9 pm, all the Santas and Mrs. Clauses go home to start their plans for next year's Secret Families.  

This year, an NBC news crew showed up so I think Al's secret might not be so secret anymore.

Merry Christmas!

About the Author
Anson Ross Thompson

Anson Ross Thompson

Anson Ross Thompson is the president of The Thompson Group, based in Parker City, Ind. He also is the author of "Marketing with Naked 70-Year-Olds," available at Contact him at


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