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Santa Is Calling 121 Pittsfield Children
By Andy McKeever, iBerkshires Staff
01:14AM / Thursday, December 14, 2017
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The Santas all have stories of odd conversations they've had with children.

Eleven volunteers spend Wednesday night helping with the program.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — City children are getting unexpected phones calls Wednesday and Thursday night from Santa.
 
Santa Claus is calling 121 city children this year as part of the annual North Pole Calling program. Each year about a dozen volunteers spend Wednesday night calling area children and the Knights of Columbus make calls the next night.
 
"We have some [volunteers] who are returning and some who are new," said Recreation Activities Coordinator Becky Manship, who heads the program.
 
"It is my favorite program of the year. You can hear the joy of the kids and the parents."
 
The program starts with a letter being sent home from the Department of Community Development to parents of children in grades kindergarten through second. Parents fill out forms providing a bit of information about the children, such as where they go to school, if they have any pets or siblings, and their interests.
 
"We send out the forms to Pittsfield school children and parents who are interested fill out the form and send it in," Manship said.
 
Santa takes it from there and has a conversation with the children over the phone, encouraging them to work hard in school and to be nice.
 
The program takes about a month to get organized. And volunteers have been easy to come by. Sheila Eleanor McKenna was a volunteer last year and said she wanted to come back because of the children's reaction. The joy goes both ways.
 
And on other end of the phone, the Santas have plenty of their own stories. From a child who hung up on one Santa to another crying and screaming, to one even recognizing the voice of Santa. 
 
One year, volunteer Joe Cimini called a home expecting to speak to just a couple children but there were guests over that night and he ended taking the wishes of nearly a dozen. Bill Knowles still tells the story of when he called a 9-year-old girl who said she wanted to become a marine biologist but couldn't because she was a girl. Knowles didn't like that response and told her that, yes, she most certainly can become a marine biologist if she works hard in school and he told her not to let anyone say she couldn't. Police Chief Michael Wynn once called a child from a classroom he visited that day. And the child called him out on it.
 
The city doesn't put an age limit on the program but mostly focuses on children in the early grades. But they've called children as young as 1 and some even older.

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