Christmas was a difficult time for Jennifer Doers of Saukville three years ago.
She was trying hard to get into the spirit for her son Adam, who was 9 at the time, but was working two jobs and barely able to make ends meet, let alone buy gifts. She decided not to put up a Christmas tree that year.
“On Christmas Eve, there was a knock at the door and my son answered it. He started yelling for me to come,” Doers said.
“Here was a big silver box and Christmas tree in the middle of the hallway, and no one was at the door. We opened the box and there were toys, Christmas socks, Bucks tickets, candles, a shirt, grocery and gas gift cards. I started bawling.”
Tucked into the box, Doers found a letter saying, “Somebody saw you have a big heart and need some cheer.” It was from the Secret Santa Society, which noted, “Giving in its purest form expects nothing in return.” There was a Facebook page link and email address but no name.
The next Christmas, Doers notified the group she and her son wanted to help, and they were given gift suggestions for that year’s recipient. Mother and son have donated toys and time ever since.
“We wanted to make sure that we paid it forward,” said Doers, who now helps deliver the gifts. Society members refer to it as “going on the sleigh ride.”
“We wear elf costumes, knock on the door and hide. It’s the most rewarding, amazing experience,” she said. “I’m honored to be a part of it and be involved in this amazing thing.”
Doers agreed to be the face for the local Secret Santa Society, but other members want to remain anonymous.
Some recipients like Doers join the society. Recipients usually thank the group via emails.
“One woman was so grateful because she was going to be able to visit her family for Christmas because she got gas gift cards,” Head Elf said. “She didn’t have enough money to buy gas to get there. That brought tears to my eyes.”
Last year, the society helped a family in which the parents lost their jobs. This year, it’s hoping to help three families, but need more donations to do that.
Doers was the first recipient of the Secret Santa Society’s generosity, but the organization’s roots go back to 2004, when Head Elf was a student in college.
“My parents told me not to buy them anything for Christmas, but to help someone in need,” she said.
Her parents bought gifts for children and families through their church and area food pantries, receiving names, ages and gift suggestions.
“I thought it was a little impersonal,” Elf said.
Instead, she chose to help a co-worker who was struggling to make ends meet.
“I knew her and her kids’ ages and got items for them,” she said.
During a lunch break, Elf (who doesn’t advise others do this) took her co-worker’s keys from her purse and put the wrapped gifts in the back seat of her car with a note that said, “Don’t work so hard this year.”
“She was working two jobs trying to get by. She never guessed who did it,” Elf said. “We were acquaintances, not good friends.”
That was so rewarding that she continued to do it each Christmas by herself. She told a few friends, and they wanted to help, so they formed the Secret Santa Society of Southeastern Wisconsin, which accepts nominations for recipients who live in Ozaukee, Washington and Milwaukee counties.
The organization seeks nominations through its Facebook page. The elves drop off the gifts one or two days before Christmas.
“We hide to make sure they get the gifts, then leave,” Head Elf said.
“It’s a good way to show my kids that Christmas is not all about getting. That’s not the spirit of Christmas. It’s about giving, not getting.”
The society doesn’t have income or age restrictions for recipients, relying upon the people nominating them to explain why they’re in need.
“Somebody may make $50,000 a year, but they’re struggling with medical bills,” Elf said.
“Most of the people in our program don’t ask for help. They’re the ones who organize food drives and help others, even though they don’t have much to give.
“We hope when they’re in a place to be able to give back, that they will.”
Like the real Santa, the Secret Santa Society is not a registered nonprofit agency, so donations are not tax deductible.
Some businesses donate gift cards and other items anyway, but many businesses require groups to be a registered nonprofit.
Elf considered doing that, but would lose her anonymity. For now, she wants to keep it personal and altruistic, receiving nothing in return, not even a tax deduction.
This year, the Secret Santa Society wants to help three families. The children include two boys, ages 3 and 16, and three girls, ages 1, 3, and 13.
Cash donations are used to purchase gas, We Energies’ and grocery gift cards.
Donations may be dropped off at Blue Heron Artisan’s Gallery, 102 E. Pier St., Port Washington; Tangled Hair Salon, 129 Main St., Belgium; and Within Arms Reach Spa, 6941 Hwy. 175, Allenton.
More information is available at www.Facebook.com/secretsantasociety or email
Image Information: HELPER ELF Jennifer Doers wrapped a gift for the Secret Santa Society of Southeastern Wisconsin. The organization wants to help three families this year. Photo by Sam Arendt