By Wade Coggeshall
INDIANAPOLIS — When Andy Harris helped take over organization of the westside"s annual Breakfast With Santa a couple of years ago, the Wayne Township trustee knew what he was getting into.
"I didn"t hesitate doing so, but it"s a huge undertaking," he said. "But it"s amazing to see how gratified these kids and their parents are."
With this year"s event, organizers are planning on hosting 3,500 children and their parents. That"s up from a few hundred when Breakfast With Santa started 14 years ago.
It was established by Vicki Walker of the Indiana division of Steak 'n Shake and Marshall Lewis as a way to give back to the community. Steak 'n Shake recruited the Wayne Township Fire Department and local businesses, including Engaging Solutions and Long"s Bakery, to help.
Harris first got involved when he worked in the mayor"s office. After being elected Wayne Township trustee last year, he said Lewis asked him to take over as chair of Breakfast With Santa. Lewis has stepped down from his duties and Walker is battling cancer.
"We"re carrying on their legacy," Harris said.
This year"s Breakfast With Santa is from 8:15 a.m. to 1 p.m. Dec. 15 at the Chapel Hill 7th & 8th Grade Center, 7320 W. 10th St. Steak 'n Shake will serve a free all-you-can-eat breakfast, after which children can visit with Santa and select some free toys to take home, courtesy of Toys for Tots.
Sign-up sheets for the event have been placed in all local Steak 'n Shake locations as well as other restaurants and community centers. The Wayne Township Trustee"s office has also issued e-mails and press releases.
"It"s not mandatory that people be signed up to come, but it helps us plan," Harris said. "If I have 3,000 12-year-olds and (Toys for Tots) only gave us a thousand toys fit for that age, I have to run out and buy more toys. This way everyone seems to walk away happy."
There"s no criteria to participate. Harris requests that participants live on the westside. The eastside is having a similar event.
"We prefer they be a family in need, but we"re not going to turn anyone away," Harris said. "It"s one of those trust things."
Donated toys may be dropped off at any Toys for Tots bin around the city. Ideal items include new toys, clothing, books, and gift certificates. Volunteers are also needed for day-of duties including working in the kitchen, parking lot attendants, item transport, and set-up and tear-down.
Harris estimates they have 50 to 60 volunteers working the day of the event. More than a hundred help organize Breakfast With Santa.
"We start planning in the spring," Harris said. "After the event we have a get-together in January to thank everyone for their time and assess how it went."
It"s a lot of work, but worth it to people like Harris. Having been raised by a single mother, along with his three siblings, he knows how important community outreach like Breakfast With Santa can be.
"We"re putting smiles on children"s and parents" faces, giving them some relief that they"re being provided for (this Christmas)," Harris said. "It"s very humbling."
For more information on Breakfast With Santa or to volunteer, call 241-4191.