When Wendy Wellington started her business, Wonder Simplicity & Beauty in Portraits (WSB in Portraits), back in 2005 she did the standard child and family shots throughout the year, with some Santa setups around the holidays. But in 2009, her business took a new turn, when a 4-year-old requested something unexpected: She asked Santa for underwear.
That one word struck Wellington. “What child, at 4, asks for underwear?” she thought. It turns out that the girl, who was at the shoot with another family, was the daughter of a struggling single mom who also had 18-month-old twins.
Wellington invited the girl and her family to her studio for a complimentary Santa portrait. With the help of friends and clients, she gathered toys for Santa — aka Pine Bush’s Steve Decker — to give to the family. And so, Magical Moments With Santa was born.
Now, Wellington and her large group of volunteers survey local school nurses, pediatricians, and mothers’ groups, and send invitations to families for a free Christmas photo session in early December. Eligibility is for financial or medical reasons, or other unfortunate events: Sometimes a child or caregiver is seriously ill, and this may be the final portrait the family will take together.
While those invitations are being sent, Wellington asks for toy donations from her paying clients who book sittings from mid-October until the end of November. They respond in spades: By Thanksgiving, she says, “We have toys coming out our ears!”
Her dedicated volunteers organize and wrap the gifts, and stuff Santa’s sack with appropriate presents before each family’s sitting. The families leave with a warm meal, several toys per child, a family gift (a game, a sled, etc.), and hand-sewn goody bags stuffed with toiletries, socks, and other necessities.
Scholarships are given for recreational soccer, Pine Bush Excelsior academies, cheerleading, and football — activities that are out of financial reach for many. Donations of 120 dozen Christmas cookies are also packed into tins to go home. By Christmas, the families each receive two 5×7 portraits in the mail.
By the end of the holiday season, Wellington estimates that she does free sittings for around 50 families and 100 children. “Once you see the families, and you start to help, you get the bug,” she insists. “You just have to watch it. It’s amazing.”
Find Magical Moments With Santa on Facebook, or visit www.wsbinportraits.com.