By: Jen Russon
For six years and counting, a Coral Springs couple have transformed the back porch of their Sabal Pointe residence into the North Pole.
Hunter Miller and his husband, Angel Alvarez run Christmas for the Innocent, a charity organization that seeks to gather, wrap and distribute 600 toys for poor children.
The group has more helpers than Santa has reindeer, but are always looking for more volunteers. At present, Alvarez and Miller confirmed they are about half way toward their goal.
“I’d say we have about 12 people helping us wrap and categorize the donated toys this year. We dress up like elves and hand out gifts. It’s such a good feeling. I can’t describe it,” said Miller.
He added that the children are always surprised at how psychic the elves seem in handing out gender and age appropriate gifts to each child.
“When we wrap them, we also tag them,” Miller winked.
His husband, Angel is the face behind Santa’s beard and said that, while December is certainly their busiest time of year, their work is year round.
“We have so much fun with it. I’m stashing gifts away in our house in the summer, knowing we’ll use them when Christmas comes around,” said Alvarez – also known as Santa Claus.
Alvarez, who gets into his jolly red-cheeked role, said that one of his best memories happened at Carver Ranches in Hollywood. He was passing out presents to the children, when a boy around 14-years-old threw his arms around his Santa suit and wouldn’t let go.
“At first I thought he was just clowning around, but then he admitted it was his dream to finally meet Santa,” he said.
As a child, Alvarez moved to Florida from Cuba. Currently, a business development manager for Rail Europe, he and Miller – who works at Home Depot in Deerfield Beach – created Christmas for the Innocent in response to becoming empty nesters.
“When our children grew up and moved out, we felt such an emptiness in our lives,” said Miller. “All their activities kept us so busy, and suddenly we had too much time on our hands.”
The couple share three children between them: James, Rebecca and Megan, who attended Coral Springs schools and participated in booster clubs throughout their youth.
Miller and Alvarez said that spreading Christmas magic among the less fortunate is harder than you might think, but now that they’ve found their stride, the experience is hugely rewarding – and it has filled the empty space in their hearts.
“The look on the kids’ faces is pure joy,” said Alvarez, who said that, in addition to the Boys and Girls Club of Deerfield Beach and Carver Ranches in Hollywood, their gift-giving includes private visits.
“We visited a terminally ill girl in her home as Santa and the elves. Her mother was so touched that she has since become a volunteer for our organization,” said Miller.
He described another visit to a single mother of three children. She couldn’t afford to get into the Christmas spirit as much as a parent hopes to, so Angel, Hunter and their volunteer elves stepped in.
The Christmas for the Innocent “Helping Calendar” features these dates:
- Dec 8: Photo shoot with Santa at Hunter and Angel’s house. Take your picture with Santa. Photo shoot is free, but donations are accepted to help buy more toys.
- Dec 15-16: Gift wrapping party. Bring your tape, your scissors and your paper and come help wrap the toys for the kids. The more the merrier
- Dec 18: Deerfield Boys and Girls Club
- Dec 19: North Lauderdale Boys and Girls Club
- Dec 20: Carver Ranch Boys and Girls Club
- Dec 25: Church Boys and Girls Club
Here’s how to put your best elf foot forward if you’d like to help. Donate here, attend a gift wrapping party or send a toy that will be presented to a child in need. Donated toys should be in the amount of $10, and can be brought or shipped to 12126 NW 32nd Place in Coral Springs. Find Christmas for the Innocent on Facebook.
Jen Russon is a freelance writer and English Language Arts teacher. She has published two novels to Amazon Kindle and lives in Coral Springs with her family.