YES, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus, but for some reason he hasn't stopped by BEBASHI yet.
If old St. Nick doesn't quit napping and get his lazy elves on the case soon, there are going to be a lot of disappointed children.
That's because the annual toy drive sponsored by the tiny nonprofit on Spring Garden Street that helps local residents infected with HIV has been all but nonexistent this year. And as a result, BEBASHI has practically no toys.
You read that correctly. BEBASHI's toy reserve is all but empty, unless you count 20 or so stuffed animals and boxes of crayons left over from last year.
Charities that used to donate to the agency didn't do it this year, and donations from individual contributors have been absent as well. BEBASHI officials have targeted more than 100 children, many whose parents are too ill to work. Some can't find jobs because of the stigma surrounding AIDS, and others are in recovery from drug addiction. Their children include:
* An "ador-
able" 1-year-old who was born to HIV-
infected parents but who is HIV-negative. Her mother was diagnosed with schizophrenia as a teenager and has a long history of making poor choices. But she does hope for better for her daughter. She would like it if the toddler gets a present from Baby Einstein.
* A 4-year-old whose mother
has AIDS and who gave birth to him at age 47. At this point, she is too sick to work, and her son is a regular at BEBASHI's holiday parties.
* The five children of a working
mother who learned in 2003 that she was HIV-positive. When she first sought help at BEBASHI, none of her children was in school, and now the oldest is in college. Aside from the college student, the ages of the women's children are 10, 11, 16 and 14 (twins).
"It's pretty bad," Gary J. Bell, BEBASHI's executive director, told me yesterday. "The only calls we've gotten are from people who have heard about it and who want a toy."
"We start this [campaign] in November. Usually, by this time, we have some toys and we've started wrapping them."
Not wanting to see any of their clients' children go without, BEBASHI's employees have begun using their own money to purchase gift cards and other giftables, but that has made only a small dent.
There's not enough of them, and the need is greater than ever.
Ironically, what workers are hoping to get in charitable donations isn't all that much.
Some toy trucks maybe, some dolls and maybe some coloring books to match up with last year's crayons. Oh, and some Baby Einstein products for that 1-year-old.
Most of the kids on the list are between the ages of 8 and 10. For older youngsters, gift cards of at least $5 in value are useful - especially ones that aren't for a specific store.
They're hoping to give each child a couple of things because, well, it's Christmas.
Making this happen isn't going to break most of us.
It just involves throwing an extra toy into your basket the next time you're at Wal-Mart and thinking about someone's kid besides your own. That's what the holiday season is all about anyway, right?
Drop off unwrapped toys at BEBASHI, 1217 Spring Garden St., between 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. weekdays, although they will be open until 7 tonight. Toys are needed by next Wednesday.