In its 46th season, WBKR’s Christmas Wish program is open with the mission that “every child in the tri-state gets a visit from Santa on Christmas.”
In 2021 Christmas Wish helped over 1,600 families and 6,000 children. The program has already received over 1,500 letters with requests to make sure this Christmas there will be gifts under trees and food on their table.
WBKR personality Barb Birgy has served as the executive director of Christmas Wish for the last 7 years and said that although the season is celebrated in December, volunteers shop all year to make sure there are enough gifts to meet requests that are written in the letters.
“We have seven shoppers who shop for the gifts from Santa,” she said.
Christmas Wish headquarters is located in Towne Square North, and Birgy will be broadcasting her midday show from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. from there to focus on the program.
The 10,000-square-foot space was donated by the stores and owners of Towne Square North. The front of the area is where Birgy is located and where donations are accepted. Behind the curtains, volunteers are making calls to double-check families are on the list and that the lists are correct. Once approved, the “shopping” begins.
Thousands of gifts that have been purchased or donated are staged in areas by gender and age for easy access. Most items are toys, but some have requested coats, mittens or gloves. Birgy said that while they don’t purchase clothing since other organizations cover that, Christmas Wish will provide winter coats, if requested, for girls and boys.
Bicycles are a hot-ticket item each year, and they try to meet that need. A back room of headquarters has around 50 bikes currently, but Birgy said they will need “way more” than that to meet the requests from the letters.
Food baskets are also given to families who apply and it includes the food for a true Christmas meal. Meijer has donated gift cards to make purchases for these baskets and other local businesses help make sure there is enough to include.
“We live in the largest giving community,” Birgy said.
Several fundraisers have already happened to raise the necessary funds to make these gifts a reality, and Birgy said the coverage on WBKR helps greatly. Christmas Wish families are asked if their stories can be shared, and the hosts of the program regularly share those during the season.
Local businesses and individuals have already adopted 204 of the families, but there is still an overwhelming number to go.
Businesses can also volunteer their time and serve as elves to gather gifts for the families at the headquarters.
Birgy said that U.S. Bank has volunteered annually and many employees save their volunteer hours to serve at Christmas Wish headquarters. Other service organizations and families come in to help, as there is no signup or length of time required.
“One of the things I hear most is someone saying [to their parent] ‘I want to do this again next weekend,’” Birgy said.
Birgy said that they are always in need of volunteers and they need a core group to work annually with Christmas Wish.
“If we don’t have a core group that are full-time volunteers, it won’t be here,” she said. “We can’t run without volunteers.”
Donations are also accepted and can be dropped off at headquarters during business hours. This year, Jadah Hayden dropped off her own donation while she was out with her dad.
If individuals would rather shop, WBKR’s homepage lists the hottest toy requests, but Birgy wrote this on the site:
“Before we get to the hottest toys, the trend with this year’s letters is alarming. 70% of the letter submissions are asking for clothes. 25% are asking for simple things like socks and underwear. Many are just asking for personal hygiene products. In my seven years as the director of Christmas Wish, this is the most requests I’ve seen. We offer new winter coats to any child that needs one but only supply clothing if we have some on hand. We focus more on toys for children and a Christmas meal for the family. If you can donate socks, underwear, or pajamas it would be greatly appreciated.
Families interested in asking for assistance can send a Christmas Wish letter and mail it to 3301 Frederica St., Owensboro, KY 42301; visit the headquarters; or submit a letter online.
Each letter must include why the family needs assistance; the names, ages, and school attended of the children in the household; what is needed; and what “wish” they have from Santa.
Christmas Wish will take letter requests until Dec. 11 and Birgy said they are working as quickly as they can to follow up with families to let them know they have received their letters.
“We don’t leave a child behind,” she said. “Don’t panic and don’t worry [if you haven’t heard from us yet.”