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Santa brings joy to families at O’Fallon Rec Center YMCA

O’FALLON PARKSanta Claus came to town on Saturday – at the Gateway Region YMCA O’Fallon Rec Complex, to track him exactly. He delivered enough toys for hundreds of youths, many of whom he had photos taken with.

This occasion was the annual Brunch and Toy Giveaway. Along with plenty of toys were coats for gloves and jackets for adults. A good time was had by all as Christmas music blared throughout the gymnasium of the Y Rec Complex, 4343 West Florissant Ave.  

But who knew Santa Claus was black? Or that he also went by the name of Jim Zell and had more of a history in north St. Louis than at the North Pole?

Certainly not some of the children, at least two little girls. They grilled Santa Claus with multiple observations and questions.  

“Santa Claus doesn’t have dreadlocks,” one of the little girls said, closely examining what first appeared to be locs of curly white hair. 

After Zell fielded snowballing questions from the curious girls, they excitedly invited the cheery colorful Santa to their homes to deliver as many gifts as he could. 

“It’s so much Christmas cheer; this is really nice,” said Shellie Boaze, who brought along children whom she mentors. 

“They get to see that the community cares for them and is trying to make sure they have what they need,” Boaze said, adding, “Black Santa: That’s the coolest thing in the world.”

It’s very cool to Santa (and Zell) too.

Meeting Santa “Jim Zell” Claus at the Toy Giveaway at 4343 W. Florissant Saturday morning. (Photo by Robert C. Holt III / for MetroSTL.com)
“Being Santa Claus is probably one of the best experiences I had in my life,” Zell and Santa said as one, expressing joy at seeing all of the children running up. 

“Santa Claus is more famous than LeBron James,” Santa noted. 

Looking around at all of Santa’s helpers, he may get more help than LeBron James, too.

There’s Kimberly-Anne Collins, who is the brainchild and presenter of this toy giveaway and runs around collecting toys and other goodies. Then there’s Y Rec Complex Executive Director Rob West, who facilitates the event but is quick to give all of the glory to Collins and one Andre Mclemore. 

“The Y is always in support of the community, willing to be a beacon of light,” West said. “At the end of the day, it’s about the greater good, and it shows what our community can be when people [such as Kim and Mac] come together.

Mclemore helped Santa by donating 75 percent of the toys, using roughly $1,200 out of his personal wallet. He gets jolly just seeing children smiling with their toys. 

“This world is hectic today, but I’ve been blessed, so I have to give back,” said Mclemore, who works at General Motors. 

Santa’s other helpers included St. Louis Public Schools elected board member Adam Layne; 15th Ward Alderwoman Megan E. Green; and new members of Mayor Lyda Krewson’s office, Wilford Pinkney Jr. and Madisen Janssen. 

There were plenty more, some of whom served brunch, sponsored by New Carrie’s Corner Market. Hot off the menu were hash brown potatoes, sausage, chicken and waffles, eggs and fruit.

Many helped with the distribution of toys. There were dolls, doll houses and other doll accessories. Santa’s list also included basketballs and rims, footballs, skate boards, construction trucks and play tools, board games, water and ball blasters, bass drums, electric guitars, books and toiletries.  

Children didn’t have to wait to get home to play. They were treated to cookie-making and snowman ornament-making stations and were able to celebrate and learn about Kwanzaa.  

To boot, children were serenaded with live Christmas tunes by local music sensation violinist Bell Darris. 

“This is what the holidays are all about,” said Lola Tammons, who was there with her daughter, Paula, and grandchildren. 

“The community is what provides business to the Y, so I think it’s good that they give back,” Grandma said.

Bill Beene

bill.beene@thenorthsider.com Bill Beene was born and raised in north St. Louis. He has been a journalist for 12 years. He enjoys cooking and roller skating. He lives in the historic Ville neighborhood.

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