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Santa Claus really really needs your help this holiday season.

You can help him by volunteering as a Secret Santa in providing Christmas presents for a needy family via the Madison School District’s Madison Cares program.

Madison School District’s Social Marketing and Communications Manager and Madison Cares official Jessica Goudy says that so far only 18 families have signed up to serve as Secret Santas to donate Christmas gifts to the needy. While grateful for that help, Goudy reports there are another 22 disadvantaged families on the list asking for holiday assistance.

“Right now, we don’t have nearly enough shoppers. We’ve put a hold on everything until we get more people to adopt families,” she said.

The hope is to help up to 80 needy families this year just as were helped in 2020, Goudy said.

“We’re trying to find shoppers who can either adopt a whole family, adopt one individual or just pick out a giving tree ornament which means just one gift,” she said.

Large families are the rule rather than the exception in Madison County, Goudy said.

“We live in an area where generally families typically have more kids than anywhere else,” she said.

Families requesting help should email Goudy their needs and wants, and from there she sends the list to those able and willing to help. Recipients later pick up the gifts at Madison Cares offices.

Goudy noted that needy families have Christmas trees but no ornaments to decorate them. She’s asking those who have Christmas tree decorations they don’t plan to use to donate them to Madison Cares.

Those receiving the holiday help often pay it forward during subsequent Christmas seasons, Goudy said.

“It takes the generosity of hundreds of people to pull this off,” she said.

To help pull it off, organizations will chip in.

“Cedar Point Trucking has done coat drives, and they bring us between 20 to 30 brand new coats which is just huge for us. Winter clothing is big on the list of what people need,” she said.

It’s not unusual for Madison School workers to notice youngsters arriving at school without socks, boots, hats, or coats during the colder months of the year.

“We try to round up that winter clothing,” Goudy said.

While winter clothing is always needed, Visa gift cards are also greatly appreciated by Madison Cares Christmas families, she said.

“It’s really hard for them to ask for money. Sometimes what they need is help in paying a bill,” Goudy said.

Hygiene products are also frequently asked for, and this year Madison Memorial Hospital Registered Nurse Michele Rumsey is helping to gather such items for families.

“She’s running a hygiene drive,” Goudy said.

Other items also traditionally requested are laundry detergent and socks.

“We made it a goal last year that every person — every family member — gets at least one new pair of socks,” she said.

Teachers and principals often notify the Madison Cares team about families needing help with the holidays, said Rick Croft, Madison Cares Director.

“We only hear about families in need because of something a student has said (during) a parent-teacher conference,” he said. “We just end up hearing one way or another that it’s a family having a rough go of it and needs some help this holiday season.”

Croft noted that Madison County per capita is the poorest county in the state. Idaho.gov ranks it as 30.5% poverty rate followed by Camas County at 23.3%.

Goudy and Croft said the high poverty rate may result from the large Brigham Young University-Idaho student population, but there are also other factors involved.

“Sometimes it’s just circumstances. Things were going great, and the parents just lost their jobs. Things were going great, and a parent has been hospitalized for some ailment — maybe COVID — for four weeks. Those medical bills have put the family in huge need,” Croft said.

Those who want to help but don’t have time to shop, may instead send a monetary donation to Madison Cares. Often anonymous cash contributions arrive at Madison Cares offices, Goudy said.

“Money showing up on our desks — it becomes a magical time for us. We sit here and just cry. It’s overwhelming, the generosity of people,” she said. “Anyone who says that Christmas magic isn’t a real thing, they just need to spend a little bit of time at our North Pole at Madison School District.”

Goudy says that it’s largely thanks to that Christmas magic that Madison Cares workers transform into Santa’s elves and manage to provide Christmas for those in need.

“Our elves are way cooler than any of his elves.” Goudy said. “With 80 families and the average number of at least four people per family — the amount we help — I think Santa would be jealous.”

To help provide a family with Christmas this year call Madison cares at 208-359-1256 or stop by the facility at 60 W. Main Street.