This is the first part of a weekly series highlighting the charitable holiday efforts of area residents:
They do it without fame or accolades - they do it because they care.
Every year, they spend their time and money shopping for people who could be their neighbors -- but they'll never really know, and that's just the way they want it.
For years, residents of New York Mills have served as Santa's helpers through a program called Santa Anonymous. Each season, they stock up on gifts that will provide joy for children and adults in need throughout the community.
In some cases, entire families step up to the plate as Santa helpers, working together to provide for others.
"We've done it for more than 10 years," said one anonymous Santa helper.
When this helper's family was younger, they made the annual shopping trip, designated only for the Santa Anonymous program. And although the children have gone off to college, this helper said they always keep tabs on what was purchased for their Santa Anonymous family.
When a family or individual signs up to help with the Santa Anonymous program, they are given the ages and genders of those they shop for. Volunteer helpers have the chance to shop for a whole family or individuals, depending on what they choose. The fun part is that names are not included on either end of the deal - so the buyers don't know who is receiving and the receivers aren't given the identity of those who helped out.
"It's really become part of Christmas every year," said the helper. "We can talk about it, and we can remind ourselves that we have a lot of blessings and some other people don't always - that's a good lesson for all kids and all families to learn, and we all need to be reminded of it - that we all need to share what we have."
Those who are involved in the program say its success is a testament to the true spirit of people within the NY Mills community.
"It's amazing to walk into that (gift) room and see how many things people have donated," one anonymous helper said. "It's phenomenal the amount of goodwill and good people we have that are willing to put their needs aside and contribute to people who are in more need."
While children surely are a focus of the program, Santa Anonymous volunteers also remember those who have lost loved ones. It's not unusual for volunteers to deliver special gifts to those who are alone on the holidays.
"They (volunteers) remember families with health issues who have struggled during the year," the secret helper said. "It touches those people, too."
And while these helpers are in it to bless others, many say they're the ones receiving the blessings in the end.
"I guess when you know that some kid is going to have something under their tree to open that they might not have otherwise, it's just a good feeling - it's the Christian nature we should all put out there," a helper said. "It's amazing, it's very heartwarming."
Donation boxes for Santa Anonymous are at Cenex C-Store, the Credit Union, Dean's Country Market, Seip Drug, Hardware Hank, Mills Lanes, NY Mills Public Library, F and M Bank and the NY Mills Post Office.
Gifts for children up to 18 years old are needed. Boxes will be collected Friday, Dec. 16; gifts will be wrapped Monday, Dec. 19.
To help out in any way, call 218-640-5100.
Monetary donations are also being accepted at 111 N. Broadway in New York Mills or deposited directly into the Santa Anonymous account at F and M Bank.