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At 50, Elf Louise Project continues spreading Christmas cheer

November 12, 2018

Mission County Park was transformed into a winter wonderland Sunday as hundreds gathered to play in real snow, take a photo with Santa and pet his two reindeer, Holly and Noelle.

The event was part of a celebration for the 50th anniversary of the Elf Louise Christmas Project, a beloved San Antonio nonprofit that has delivered Christmas gifts to more than 1 million needy children in greater San Antonio since its inception.

Maritza Verazzi and her two children, 6-year-old Zadkiel and 3-year-old Makayla, were among those who took part despite the cold and a near-constant drizzle. They sat for photos with Santa and were looking forward to riding a small electric train that was making its way through the park.

The best part? “The slide!” Zadkiel exclaimed, referring to a large snow slide that allowed attendees to go sledding in an inflatable tube.

Elf Louise is celebrating its 50th Christmas season. The project began in 1969 when its founder, Louise Locker, was a 19-year-old sociology student at Trinity University.

It was a few days before Christmas, and Locker was listening to talk-show host Johnny Carson read children’s letters to Santa on “The Tonight Show.” She was inspired and wanted to find a way to “make something magical happen,” she recalled later.

Locker visited a local post office and convinced the postmaster to let her read dozens of letters that kids had written to Santa. One letter in particular stood out: a girl asking Santa for a Christmas tree and a Bible for her mother.

Locker selected a handful of letters and took them home to her mother. Together, they gathered items around the house to give to the children. They also approached strangers to solicit toy donations.

That first Christmas, they gathered almost 200 presents and delivered them to 65 needy children.

Since then, the Elf Louise Christmas Project has grown into a yearlong enterprise that delivers 60,000 gifts to about 20,000 children every December. The organization has roughly 5,000 volunteers and a $316,000 annual budget.

Locker, 69, has maintained a large role in the organization, even as she battled breast cancer and recovered from a heart attack. She was also active in planning Sunday’s event.

“Because of everything that’s happening in the world, people get caught up in that and sometimes see things through a dark lens,” Locker said last year. “But I’ve always asked total strangers to be involved because I believe people want to help. We can all be so unconnected sometimes, and I want people to imagine a world where everyone acts on their goodness.”

As Sunday’s event came to a close, it was evident that the Elf Louise Christmas Project had been successful, yet again, in spreading some holiday cheer. Children formed snowballs and played among themselves, many of them wearing red and green Santa or Elf hats.

“I was a little iffy, with the cold and the rain,” one mother said. “But I’m really glad we came.”

Emilie Eaton is a criminal justice reporter in the San Antonio and Bexar County area. Read her on our free site, mySA.com, and on our subscriber site, ExpressNews.com. | eeaton@express-news.net | Twitter: @emilieeaton

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