Who Needs Reindeer When You've Got A Gust?

Santa Charity Raises Money With Harbor Catamaran Rides

August 02, 2009|By Liz F. Kay | Liz F. Kay,liz.kay@baltsun.com

Santa's other sleigh is a catamaran.

Volunteers for Santa Claus Anonymous offered people Hobie Catamaran rides around the Inner Harbor on Saturday in exchange for donations to its third annual "Santa Sails" fundraiser.

Founded during the Great Depression by Theodore R. McKeldin, who later served two terms as Baltimore's mayor and two terms as Maryland's governor, Santa Claus Anonymous gives families in Baltimore and the surrounding counties gift certificates to purchase Christmas gifts each year.

The certificates enable parents to shop on their own, giving them "the privacy and dignity of being able to give a gift to a child," said the nonprofit's president, David Blumberg. "The children don't know [who paid for the gifts] and the donors don't know who they're helping."

Although its roots are in the city, the group has expanded its scope to include counties such as Anne Arundel, Baltimore and Harford. "We tried to widen the focus not only in who we fund, but also where we raise funds," Blumberg said.

In 2008, Santa Claus Anonymous raised more than $280,000 and gave away more than 15,000 $15 gift certificates to partnering merchants such as Rite Aid, the president said.

The group's members work with social service organizations in Baltimore and the counties to identify families receiving assistance. But because of declining donations because of the economy, they have reduced the number of certificates they issued. Now only children 3 years to 12 years old are eligible, instead of children from 3 years to 14 years old, Blumberg said.

The certificates can only be redeemed for toys, clothing or books. "They're earmarked for certain types of goods," Blumberg said. Santa Claus Anonymous then reimburses the retailers a discounted amount for each redeemed certificate.

The organization relies upon direct mail donations as well as several annual fundraisers such as a golf outing, a wine tasting and Saturday's "Santa Sails" event.

The idea for the event grew out of a dare.

Three years ago, Keith Strasser of Frederick challenged SCA's treasurer August "Bud" Boblitz to ride a catamaran. The Pasadena resident agreed to do it, but only if his friends and family pledged $1,000 toward Santa Claus Anonymous.

This was no simple feat. Boblitz doesn't swim, and catamarans can reach a top speed of one-and-a-half times the wind speed - 8 knots Saturday, or roughly 10 mph, Strasser said. (The Inner Harbor speed limit is 6 knots, he added.)

As Strasser explained, sailing a catamaran is "the scariest roller coaster ride you've ever been on, with no seats, no seat belts and no cup holders."

But Boblitz persevered, and the annual fundraising tradition developed. "It's not for us," he said. "It's for the children."

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