The Substitutes for Santa program helps local kids have a great holiday
For 10 years, a growing number of the Myrtle Beach area young professionals, known collectively by the group moniker the gsSCENE, have been volunteering their time to help children in need experience a brighter Christmas. The Substitutes for Santa program came into being around the same time as the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce’s gsSCENE organization, geared toward Chamber members under 40 years old. Julie Kopnicky, who is now the Director of Marketing and Public Relations for Grand Strand Medical Center, currently serves as Chairperson of the gsSCENE and first volunteered her time in those early days, remembering how the group came together to raise funds and help provide a little Christmas cheer.
“That first year we had about 60 kids,” said Kopnicky, “and 75 volunteers. By 2015 we were serving 150 kids.” Kopnicky’s busy professional and personal life doesn’t stop her or any of the gsSCENE volunteers from making time for this annual event. For most volunteers, shopping with the kids is the highlight of their year.
School guidance counselors first identify the kids in need, ages 5–12, who, along with their families, are the beneficiaries of the Substitutes for Santa program. “Once we get the list we organize a game night at Ultimate California Pizza,” said Kopnicky. They eat pizza, play games and head over to Walmart, where each child is paired with a volunteer and a $100 gift card. “We have some things on the list that we require they get, certain clothing items for example, but the majority of the $100 is theirs to spend however they want. We also deliver toiletries and some basic essentials to each family.”
Most of the $15,000 required to offer some 150 kids a $100 shopping spree comes in the form of corporate sponsors and from a couple of annual fundraisers. The annual gsSCENE Oyster Roast at the Hot Fish Club (scheduled for February 17, 2018) is one of the primary fundraising events. Earlier this year the gsSCENE also sponsored a Gaming for Charity event at the newly opened Dave & Buster’s at Broadway at the Beach. A lot of time and money goes into this effort, and while the kids are obviously thrilled, the volunteers seem to get as much or more out of the experience.
“What’s really so rewarding and touching,” said Kopnicky, “is that we get to know these children, and in my past experience each of the kids I was with asked me ‘Can I buy my brother or sister or mom and dad something?’ That’s the real reward.”
SUBSTITUTES FOR SANTA
Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce
Photographs by Donald Hovis of Tides Eye Photography - TidesEyePhotography.com