“Lo and behold, I lucked out.” That’s how Gabe Bakos explains what followed after his wife, Linda, suggested that he volunteer at The Salvation Army Christmas Kettles.
Linda’s family had a long tradition within The Salvation Army church. When Gabe married her almost four years ago, he says he knew, as do most people, about the kettles and the shelter. But he admits he had no idea there was a church, let alone children’s camps, an international disaster response team, community outreach, seniors programs. The list went on.
At Linda’s urging, Gabe researched the operations. He discovered that The Salvation Army “had the lowest cost per dollar of administration, so most of it was getting to the streets where it belongs.”
He vividly remembers his first shift at the kettles. “What was memorable was all the people who stopped to ask about The Salvation Army, had worked with The Salvation Army or had been helped by The Salvation Army. It was an eye-opener.”
Gabe confesses he is an avid people watcher and tries to predict who will stop and chat, who will donate, and who will walk by, “I’m always wrong.” He has a soft spot for the kids he sees, especially their reaction to his “progressive Santa”. He adds a little bit to the costume every day until he’s into full jolly old St. Nick gear by Christmas time. His grey beard and hair makes the transformation more successful, he says, although one young boy tested its authenticity by giving it a vigorous tug. And, it isn’t just the youngsters who fall under the Santa spell. “The adults play along. Hello Santa, How are you doing, Santa? Did you get my letter, Santa?”
“It’s fun. It’s amazing how insular you get when you are not out there meeting the public. You’re isolated. You talk to people and understand what is going on. If I can help in any little way, I will.”
Gabe loves to see the faces as he transforms into Santa. The self-described incorrigible practical joker has one unfilled wish, though, he would give anything to see the faces if he could only arrive for just one shift in a reindeer sleigh.