Goodfellows: Virginia's grandson launches holiday toy drive
Jim Temple, grandson of Virginia O'Hanlon, looks over a photo of himself as a child with his grandmother before speaking Friday at Carnegie Mellon University for the kickoff of the Toys for Tots campaign.
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"Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus."
It's the best-known phrase in the most quoted newspaper editorial of all time, published in The New York Sun in 1897. The words written by Francis P. Church -- and the spirit they embody -- live on.
"He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy."
The editorial was inspired by a letter to the newspaper from 8-year-old Virginia O'Hanlon, whose friends were trying to tell her Santa didn't exist.
"Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus ... There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence."
O'Hanlon's grandson, Jim Temple, has lost track of how many times he's read the editorial or been interviewed about it. Still, he choked up while reading it aloud at Carnegie Mellon University last week, at an event to launch the campus Toys for Tots campaign.
The CMU students, faculty and staff are being joined by legions of others -- volunteers, more than 150 charitable and religious organizations, Marine Corps Military Police Company Bravo based in North Versailles, and readers of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette -- in again fulfilling the promise borne out in Mr. Church's masterpiece.
"You may tear apart the baby's rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond."
Three years before the editorial was published, a group of Pittsburgh businessmen that included George L. Bond began fixing used toys and distributing them to underprivileged children. That grew into an annual Toy Mission that served thousands and in 1947 spawned the Post-Gazette's Goodfellows Fund.
Today is the official start of our annual campaign that raises money for Toys for Tots and The Salvation Army's Treasures for Children program. We start by thanking our generous readers for breaking the all-time record for donations last year and by challenging them to do it again this year.
Mr. Temple, 73, who resides in North Chatham, N.Y., said that he and his sisters "get called upon from all over" during the holidays to talk about their famous grandmother. "We gladly share our experiences," he said.
When he was a child, the editorial "brought unwanted attention to me. I was uncomfortable at being singled out," he said. It wasn't until his senior year at The Citadel in 1960 that he realized the full significance of what his grandmother had inspired.
She was invited to appear on the nationally broadcast "The Perry Como Show" to read her letter to The Sun. Legendary NBC newsman Chet Huntley read the editorial. Mr. Temple watched the show on TV at college.
"The amazement of my classmates that that was my grandmother just floored me," he said.
Since then, and more so after the deaths of his grandmother in 1971 and his mother in 1998, he has been sought out by journalists and groups as far away as Japan to share his memories.
Carnegie Mellon's College of Engineering First Year Experience Board and university police are in their eighth year of raising money and collecting toys for needy children.
Over the coming weeks, we will tell you about some of the families who are grateful for the lift they get from the Goodfellows Fund and Toys for Tots, and the volunteers and agencies that help to preserve the joy of Christmas for tens of thousands who might otherwise awaken with no toys under the tree.
A tradition of Goodfellows is that we acknowledge every contribution, no matter the size, in the pages of the Post-Gazette. You can make a tax-deductible donation using the coupon that appears with this story, or online at www.post-gazette.com/goodfellows.
"No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood."
The Toys for Tots program will hold open houses next month to distribute toys to parents and guardians of needy children.
They will take place from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Dec. 14 and 15 at Guardian Storage Solutions, 2839 Liberty Ave., Strip District. Parents and guardians should bring a photo ID for themselves, a birth certificate for each child (children up to age 12 are eligible) and proof of need -- welfare check stub, food stamp card or other proof of government assistance.
First Published November 22, 2012 12:00 am