'Ho, ho, ho!' Belleville kids get surprise calls from Santa

News-DemocratDecember 12, 2013 

Every year since 1974-75, the Belleville Parks and Recreation Department has organized for metro-east children to get calls from Santa. Perry Nowak, 49, of Belleville, Illinois, has volunteered for the past five years. His daughter, Paige, Nowak, 11, debuted as Santa's little helper this year. In this video, they call "Gracie," who asked Santa for a Nerf bow and arrow, a Hello Kitty purse and an unstuffed Hello Kitty from Build-A-Bear. In 1995, volunteers made about 750 calls over three days. This year, there were about 300 requests.

JACQUELINE LEE/BND

— How old is Santa? Does Santa like blueberry muffins? Where is Rudolph?

These were some of the questions children in the Belleville area asked when they got calls from Santa this week.

Every year since 1974-75, the Belleville Parks and Recreation Department spends about three days organizing volunteers to call registered kids ages 3 to 8 to get a call or letter from Santa.

Perry Nowak, 49, of Belleville, has volunteered for five years. On Tuesday, Nowak's daughter, Paige Nowak, 11, debuted as Santa's little helper elf.

"Ho, ho, ho, Gracie, this is Santa. How you doing this evening?" Perry Nowak asked when he called the 5-year-old.

"Good"

"Have you been being a good little girl?"

"Yes."

"All right, listen, me and the elves are up here at the North Pole and we're getting ready to load our sleigh for our big night and I wanted to double-check with you to make sure we had some cool things in the sleigh for you, is that OK?"

Gracie asked Santa for a Nerf Bow and Arrow, a Hello Kitty purse and an unstuffed Hello Kitty from Build-A-Bear.

Santa also promised to bring Gracie's brother some books and their dog, Harley, a bone. In exchange, Gracie said she would have cookies and milk for Santa and agreed to clean up the house if the reindeer make a mess.

At the end of the phone call, Gracie exclaims, "I love you, Santa!"

Todd Strubhart, of the Belleville Parks and Recreation Department, said volunteers received about 300 requests this year. In 1995, volunteers made about 750 calls over three days.

Volunteers are from organizations including the Rowdies Rugby Football Club, Belleville Downtown Optimist Club and Belleville Jaycees.

"It's a very heartwarming feeling when you're able to do this," Strubhart said. "You hear their excitement over the phone."

Contact reporter Jacqueline Lee at jlee@bnd.com or 239-2655. Follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/BNDJLee.

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