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Santa helps out in SLO 

Rotary Club sponsors eighth annual shopping spree for disadvantaged local children

Christmas came early this year for 100 local elementary school children in the form of a Saturday-morning shopping spree. The Rotary Club of San Luis Obispo de Tolosa sponsored the Dec. 3 event to the tune of about $100 per child, and Mervyn's of SLO offered a discount.

For the past eight years, Rotarians have provided needy children with an opportunity to select an outfit of their choice. Parents are prohibited from entering Mervyn's during the event.

'It's not the parents' wish list, it's the children's," said Nancy Beighley, San Luis Obispo High School career counselor.

Local elementary-school principals recommend the lucky shoppers to the Rotary based on need.

'We chose families that don't have enough money for shopping sprees, but their lives would be brightened by them," said Principal Amy Shields,of C.L. Smith Elementary School. 'I can't tell you how many kids came up to me on Monday to show me their new clothes. One little boy came up to me three times, because he knows he's looking good."

Twenty children were selected from C.L. Smith Elementary School.

'The kids' principal, [Shields], came to our house to tell me the children had been selected," Denatra Bridgewater said. 'She told me, ‘I know your situation, and I hope this will help out.'"

Bridgewater and her six children were homeless for eight months before finding a house in San Luis Obispo last year.

'Some of these kids have never owned new clothes," Meeks said. 'The event touches our hearts."

At first, the children were shy and nervous at the prospect of shopping with strangers. But by the time their chaperone's arms were loaded with clothes, the children were all smiles.

Rotarians and local high school student volunteers assisted the young shoppers.

Rotarian Dave Thum headed for the shoe department with 5-year-old Dracio Zambrona in tow. Dracio's mother had provided a clothing worksheet that listed her son's clothing and shoe sizes.

'I always go straight for the shoes, before it becomes a madhouse," Thum said. 'I don't have kids and I don't know how he can wear a size 12 when I wear a 13."

After a bit of explaining, Dracio picked out a pair of Nike tennis shoes. He then chose a red long-sleeved T-shirt covered in dinosaurs that came with a bag of plastic prehistoric creatures attached to the neck, thus finding a way around the no-toy rule.

Dracio checked racks of clothes before pointing up at a dark gray sweatshirt with some type of emblem on the front that he recognized.

'With this sweatshirt and those tennis shoes, you'll be sporting, dude," said Pat Hickey, a 17-year-old student volunteer.

'Yeah," Dracio said. His eyes sparkled and a little grin appeared on his face.

With bulging shopping bags in tow, the children then headed to the nearby Embassy Suites to join their families for breakfast with Santa Claus.

The Embassy Suites has treated the children, their families, and the Rotarians to breakfast for the past eight years.

Children went home with a photo of themselves on Santa's knee to present to their parents on Christmas morning. Denny Johansen, the owner of Jim's Campus Camera, provided the photos, and Ali Semon, the owner of Frame Works, provided the frames.

'This is not a fundraiser; members of our club give donations to support the event," said Lyle Meek, Rotary de Tolosa president.

Two of the event's biggest supporters were Reese Davies, the president of First Bank, and Jeff Cederberg, the president of Coastal Equities.

'There are many of us that think everyone in San Luis Obispo has what we have, but many residents are living in poverty," said Shields.


Intern Karen Velie can be reached through the managing editor at

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