BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Christmas just isn’t Christmas without spreading a little holiday cheer and passing out toys to thousands of needy families.
“Today it looks like we're going to get close to our record. We've done over 1,000 children in a day. We may get pass that this year,” says Michael Acaldo with St. Vincent De Paul.
The man with that huge smile, sitting right in between all the toys in the dining room of St. Vincent De Paul is Bishop Michael Duca.
He's taken on a new role as Santa Claus for the day.
“This is not my normal hat," the bishop says. "My bishop's hat is a little different. I’m just humbled to be the gift giver. The one who is giving out the gifts that have been offered by so many people.”
Over 5,000 gifts were donated by the community. Acaldo says volunteers individually wrapped each one.
Through the help of volunteers, St. Vincent De Paul has been putting smiles on children's faces through gift giving since the late 1990s.
However, playing Santa is a first for Bishop Duca who's only been in Baton Rouge for 4 months.
“It's nice to bring some moments of help and assurance to show that the community is with them and trying hard to support them,” the bishop says.
Acaldo says for homeless children or those most in need, this is the best way to reach them.
“Our goal is to make every kid feel special. We know that so many children that we serve might not get a lot for Christmas,” Acaldo says. “A lot of people think of St. Vincent De Paul as meals or food but we are a shelter, we have prescription medicine, we’re Christmas toys. We’re helping someone pay their rent or utilities. We do all kinds of things in the community, but today we’re focused on spreading the Christmas spirit.”
Leaders of the non-profit say even though families need a boost of hope during the holidays, let's continue that goodwill throughout the year.
“Lets us work as a culture together to help make right those things our children need like good education, good healthcare and keep trying to provide things all year round,” Bishop Duca says. “This Christmas spirit is not just for Christmas. This is the beginning of it, and it should last the whole year.” Volunteers will also be giving out gifts for children and adults on Christmas day following St. Vincent De Paul’s annual Christmas Day meal. It begins at 11:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
This year, the non-profit plans on serving a record 270,000 meals to the community.