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Tue Dec 25, 2018, 09:10 AM

FSogol's 2018 Advent Calendar Day 25: The Story of No VA's Second Hand Santa

Last edited Wed Dec 26, 2018, 12:05 PM - Edit history (2)

In Franconia, VA, a small suburb located in between Alexandria and Springfield, a Metro bus mechanic lived with his wife in a quiet little house in the late 1960s. That mechanic, James (Jim) W. Thayer worked downtown in Washington, DC repairing city buses. One day while eating his lunch he saw some kids throwing rocks in alley and asked why they weren't riding bikes on such a nice day. He was shocked when they said they didn't have bikes.

That night he went home and asked his neighbors for some old bikes and collected a couple from sheds. He greased the chains, adjusted brakes, and cleaned then up. Not satisfied he stripped them down and gave them fresh coats of paint. He painted racing stripes on one and flames on a couple. Jim threw them in his truck and took them to work and gave the kids each a cool bike. The next day the brother of one of the kids showed up, so he found and modified a bike for him too. Kid after kid started showing up at the garage to see if he had a bike for them. Word began to spread and people began to drop bikes off at his home and at the Metro garage. Jim was a good mechanic, so his boss cleared out a space and they stored the bikes. People started dropping off other used toys too. Dolls, puzzles, board games, and baseball gloves started to pile up.

In the days before Springfield Mall was built, a local Kiwanis group sponsored Santa's Village and Workshop for the kids. It consisted of a small house on a trailer decorated like Santa's home and workshop. Kids could stare into the windows and see elves building toys, Mrs. Claus making cookies, and reindeer in stables. In the front was a chair for Santa and kids would sit on Santa's lap and tell them what they wanted for Christmas. The Kiwanis would tow the house to a shopping center parking lot and the kids would line up. When the mall was built (1973) the Kiwanis moved their operations inside. The unneeded Santa House was towed to Jim's backyard in Franconia. Jim stored toys there and created a portion as a work shop. Santa's North Pole workshop now sat in a suburban backyard.

By now, Jim had learned about the local orphanages, the sick children at NIH, and several homes for disabled and challenged kids. He began to supply those places with toys each Christmas. His operation got bigger and bigger. He recruited neighborhood kids to assist him. (By the mid 70s, I was one of those kids) His volunteers would strip, sand rust, and paint bikes. They would put puzzles together to see if all the pieces were there, and double check board games. The gifts would be boxed up and placed in his Santa's workshop until Christmas time.

Companies like Hasbro found out about him and sent him boxes of replacement pieces for games, dice, a box of monopoly money, a box of barbie dresses.

A local Ford dealer (Jerry's Ford of Springfield) gave him the use of a panel van a couple of days after Thanksgiving until Christmas. On all the Saturday mornings in December, we'd load the boxes of toys in and deliver them. The kids and nurses at NIH called him Santa Claus and were overjoyed to see him. The press caught on and he was referred to as the "Second Hand Santa."

I assisted him for about 7 years until I moved away. He kept his operation running until his death at age 84 in 2003. He was possibly the friendliest, most selfless person I ever met. He didn't look like Santa Claus, but to thousands of children, he was.



Merry Christmas, DU.

(For an explanation of my advent project and a link to last years posts, see
https://www.democraticunderground.com/10181152160 )

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Reply FSogol's 2018 Advent Calendar Day 25: The Story of No VA's Second Hand Santa (Original post)
FSogol Dec 2018 OP
Donkees Dec 2018 #1
FSogol Dec 2018 #2
rurallib Dec 2018 #3
FSogol Dec 2018 #4

Response to FSogol (Original post)

Tue Dec 25, 2018, 01:42 PM

1. May his memory live in their hearts today

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Response to Donkees (Reply #1)

Tue Dec 25, 2018, 05:10 PM

2. +1. Thanks. n/t

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Response to FSogol (Original post)

Tue Dec 25, 2018, 10:08 PM

3. WHAT A GREAT STORY!

Thanks so much for sharing this story and for your whole series!
A belated Merry Christmas.

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Response to rurallib (Reply #3)

Wed Dec 26, 2018, 12:13 AM

4. Thanks, Merry Christmas. Hope you had a great one. N/t

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