Yes, Carroll County, there is a Santa Claus.
Santa Claus Anonymous, a Baltimore charity that donates Christmas gifts to children, has expanded its services into Carroll this year.
"We realized that Baltimore city is not the only place with needy children, and we want to help as many as possible," said this year's president, Richard H. Watson.
"Also, we get contributions outside of Baltimore, and we thought it would be appropriate to help children in those areas."
Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Harford and Howard counties also will benefit from Santa Claus Anonymous this year, he said.
Founded in 1934 by former Baltimore Mayor Theodore R. McKeldin as the Baltimore Christmas Party, the primarily volunteer group hopes to aid 650 children in Carroll and 550,000 children statewide.
"Even the president and board of directors are volunteers," said Barbara Brown, the charity's part-time secretary and sole employee. "They have to have the type of job that lets them do volunteer work."
In the program, needy families -- chosen through the Department of Social Services -- are given a $10 gift certificate per child redeemable for children's clothing or toys at a participating department store.
Although Woolworth's in Westminster Shopping Center is the only county merchant participating, families can use the tax-free certificates at stores outside the county.
"We're new (in Carroll), and we need to get more merchants," Watson said. "The needy tend not to have freedom of transportation, so we try to get merchants in their area."
The certificates are then cashed in at Santa Claus Anonymous for 87 percent of their value, or $8.70.
"The child still gets $10 of merchandise and the 13 percent, plus other special fund-raising, covers all our costs," said Watson. "An individual's contribution goes totally to the child. Very few charities can say that."
Santa Claus Anonymous must give out the money before it has it in hand so that the children will have the gifts by Christmas, Watson said.
"We don't know if we will reach our goal until well into mid-January," he said, adding that some individuals don't give until after Christmas. "As far as I know, we are the only charity that works in this reverse manner."
However, the group is nervous about meeting its goal because of the recent economic downturn, Watson said.
"To be honest, we would like to have been ahead of where we are now," he said. "We were committed to the number of children we were going to help before the economy changed."
In addition to individual contributors, several corporations sponsor giving programs, Watson said. For example, Bendix Corp. in Howard County donates the money it would have spent on Christmas cards for employees across the country to the organization.
"Employees get a note in their paycheck saying that instead of a card, a donation to Santa Claus Anonymous is being made in their name," he said.
Contributions may be sent to: Santa Claus Anonymous, c/o Carrollton Bank, 2 Charles Plaza, Baltimore, Md. 21201.