Walking into the home of River Club's Beth Grogan, gifts are piled upon tables, couches, chairs, and the floor.
Grogan’s elves, or in this case volunteers, are busy wrapping and organizing gifts to ensure they are delivered to nine Manatee County schools on time to distribute to students in need as part of Grogan’s nonprofit, Magic of Mittens.
Magic of Mittens has people volunteer to sponsor children and families in need, and give them Christmas gifts.
“There’s a lot of problems in the world that many people think are too big to make a difference,” Grogan said. “But many people could buy a teddy bear or a football and make a difference in the life of a child.”
Magic of Mittens started 17 years ago when Grogran’s daughter Madi came home from pre-K at Rowlett Academy in tears after winter break.
Madi Grogan questioned how Santa could forget to deliver gifts to one of her classmates.
Grogan shared her sorrow.
“Your mama heart just aches because you ache for the parent raising that child,” she said. “You know how hard it must be for that parent to know they truly can’t afford to give their child the magic of Christmas. As a mom who absolutely loves and adores all children, just the thought of a child waking up Christmas morning and not having a single present broke my heart.”
She worked with the teacher to have Santa make a late delivery.
“I vowed then and there that that wasn’t going to happen on my watch,” Grogan said.
Since then, Magic of Mittens went from helping 20 to 25 children to more than 700 children across nine Manatee County schools this year.
Schools provide Grogan with referrals of families in need.
“These are families that are in extraordinary need,” Grogan said. “Not that things are a little tight, because things are a little tight for a lot of people. These are families that have lost their homes, they’re not paying their electricity bills, they’re sleeping on somebody else’s couch.”
Grogan remembered going to Myakka City Elementary School one year to get referrals. A teacher pointed out a student who was particularly tired. Grogan found out her family didn't have enough pillows for that student and her four brothers and sisters.
That year, Magic of Mittens purchased 22 Pillow Pets, which are pillows that fold to form the body of animals such as bears and unicorns, so every student in that student's class could have a pillow.
Grogan said between 5,000 and 6,000 gifts will go through her house as part of Magic of Mittens.
While many children might be wishing for toys, Grogan said she has students asking for bed sheets, pillows and coats.
“They’re not asking for an Xbox and iPhones and tablets,” she said. “They’re asking for things we totally take for granted.”
Grogan works with more than 200 businesses, school clubs and organizations, community members, and families to sponsor the children and their families.
“I get to see the goodness in people every day,” Grogan said. “I probably cry every day throughout the season because of how incredibly kind, generous and good people are. We cannot thank the generosity of the community enough.”
Katie Fradley, the assistant principal at Robert E. Willis Elementary School, was Madi Grogan’s second grade teacher at Rowlett Academy. She wasn’t surprised to see Grogan and Magic of Mittens take on more schools.
“She is the most generous, loving, giving person you’ve ever met,” Fradley said. “As a homeroom mom, she was that person that would do anything for the kids in the class, and she was involved from the beginning at Rowlett. She really is like a living angel on Earth.”
Now Fradley has brought Magic of Mittens to Willis Elementary. She said families jumped at the opportunity to help.
“The Willis community is the most compassionate and generous community I’ve ever been a part of,” Fradley said.
Close to 200 students at Myakka City Elementary School receive gifts through Magic of Mittens.
Maya Hart, an English as a second language teacher and migrant liaison at Myakka City Elementary, said families who receive gifts always are appreciative.
Hart and Magic of Mittens volunteers go to Faulkner Farms to distribute gifts. She said many children ask for socks, blankets and sweaters because they don’t have the best living conditions.
Hart said Grogan always brings a little something extra for the children at Faulkner Farms. Hart recalled when Grogan brought dolls for the girls, and Madi Grogan gave one of the dolls to a kindergartner.
“(Madi Grogan) gave her this gift, and her face just lit up,” Hart said. “She was so excited about it. When we came back to school Monday, the little girl had the doll with her as she was waiting for the bus.”
One delivery Grogan will never forget was to a family with six children. Grogan and a few volunteers went to the family’s home in Bradenton to deliver the gifts.
“The dad literally just dropped to his knees and was crying because he didn’t think he was going to get to have anything for his children,” Grogan said. “That was the year we got to donate a Christmas tree to his family, too.”