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Mall Santas seeing more children wanting food and coats this year

Mall Santas seeing more children wanting food and coats this year

Posted: Wednesday, December 23, 2009 8:01 pm
By: AP

NASHVILLE (AP) — Santas say they’re no strangers to tough-luck stories, but this year is one of the worst.
In Tennessee, they’re hearing more requests for food and coats. A 5-year-old boy asked one Santa for a stick to make his own guitar.
The economy prompted the Los Angeles-based Kringle Group, a professional organization for Santas, to send an e-mail blast to its 1,900 members advising them how to deal with children who talk about their parents’ financial problems. “I know it’s hard, but we have to make the child feel good,” said Tim Connaghan, the Kringle Group’s president. “Number one, Santas have to acknowledge the children when they are saying they need a coat or if they say they are not getting toys. You have to sympathize with them. And we have to do all that in about a minute.”
Connaghan said some Santas are getting requests for jobs for children’s parents. They get up and tell parents to go to charities, churches and schools to learn about options. Some parents, he said, are too embarrassed to ask for help without prodding.
Santa Eric Street, who lives in Columbia but works at Nashville stores and parties, knows he isn’t supposed to make promises to the children who whisper in his ear what they want for Christmas. But he said his trained response of “you will get a surprise” didn’t cut it when a 10-year-old girl asked him for better food.
“It’s pretty sad,” Street said. “You want them to get a coat, and you know they can get something from the Salvation Army and different agencies. Hopefully, some of the other requests will get answered with prayers.”
Street said he is hearing more children ask for classic toys instead of expensive electronics.
Macarena Cisneros and her husband have been out of work for months. The Nashville mother said that she is grateful her children asked for simple things this year, but even fulfilling those requests can be tough. She is dependent on charities for toys this year.
“If you can’t afford it, you can’t afford it, but you try to do the best you can,” Cisneros said. “The hard part is you try to find where to go for some help, but where do you turn when your children want something and you can’t buy it?”
Santa Tim Mack of Gatlinburg, who is on the Kringle Group’s e-mail list, was working at the Black Bear Jamboree in Pigeon Forge when he got the request for the stick, but he said he’s still hearing plenty of high-end requests, too.
“I think we’re all aware of how the economy is doing and how children are doing,” he said. “You still have them wanting their iPods.”
Metro Nashville Schools counselor Tammy Perez del Cano, who works in the Glencliff cluster, said she recently had a student ask her for toilet paper to take home. Perez del Cano bought some to give away.
She said parents should be candid but shield young children from the family’s total financial picture. “There’s a lot of depression if they don’t have coping skills. You see a lot of self-esteem issues. They will blame themselves and act out on negative behaviors. Some can’t handle what they are experiencing.”
These lean Christmases aren’t all bad, said Scott Coltrane, a family sociologist at the University of Oregon. Families that go through trying times usually create a tighter bond and raise children able to rise above challenges. While children have different capacities for understanding, they don’t lose themselves in material items even when friends and classmates may have more than they do, he said.
“There are studies from the Depression and from the mills that closed in the 1970s that show how children react to tough economic times,” he said.
The recession may serve as a cultural correction to Generation Y, Coltrane said, one accustomed to instant gratification provided by their parents.
Cynthia Lanier of Nashville, who has children ages 10 and 4 at home, said she solved the problem of Santa not being able to fulfill her children’s requests a simple way — she stopped taking them to see him.
She lives in a home built through Habitat for Humanity and said she can provide only the necessities.
“They are old enough to understand that the gifts come from me and their family,” Lanier said. “The true meaning of Christmas is about Christ.”
Published in The Messenger 12.23.09

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