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Milwaukie Santa collects food, hands out trees

Watching Keith McDonley in action as Milwaukie Santa last week was not only heartwarming, but was one of her top two best Christmas experiences ever, said Ali Packard of St. Vincent de Paul.

by: PHOTO BY ELLEN SPITALERI - Keith McDonley, in costume as Milwaukie Santa, is a familiar sight to motorists passing by his home on Southeast Clackamas Road. He handed out more than 70 free Christmas trees this year.McDonley has taken on the role of Santa for the last four years, handing out free Christmas trees and collecting food barrels for local organizations.

by: PHOTO BY ELLEN SPITALERI - Jesse Tattoo, 13, stopped by with his family to donate to the food drive, benefiting St. Vincent de Paul's food pantries.This year he chose St. Vincent de Paul to be the beneficiary, because he was looking for an organization that really needed help, and he was impressed that 94 percent of any donations to the charity goes straight to the needy, instead of to operating costs.

The 26-year-old has two large barrels in his front yard. He asks people to drive up and put nonperishable food items in the barrels; his goal this year is to gather 700 pounds of donated food. McDonley said the response from people has been incredible.

Drive-by Santa

The front of the McDonley house at 8212 S.E. Clackamas Road in

unincorporated Milwaukie is hard to miss with a red sled, complete with wooden reindeer taking off, a holiday “snow globe” and many other colorful Christmas decorations.

Christmas music is playing, and McDonley’s father is outside dispensing free hot cocoa, cookies, candy canes and even coloring books featuring Milwaukie Santa.

McDonley stands outside every night, from 5 to 7 p.m. through Christmas Eve, wearing an old-fashioned Santa costume with an overcoat made by his mother.

“I’m there rain or shine, waving. People honk, and some wish me a Merry Christmas. Why not spread a little cheer, if you can,” he said, adding that every child who stops by gets a free stuffed toy that he buys with his own money.

McDonley ended up giving away more than 70 trees this year, all donated by local tree growers.

“Most people take Christmas trees for granted, but one lady I gave a tree to was crying. She gave me a hug and said this was her first Christmas with her daughter in 20 years,” McDonley said.

Another woman even called him a “Christmas angel” for bringing a smile to her face, he said.

The night that Packard watched Milwaukie Santa in action, there were 10 families who received free trees.

“When I was there, a family came who had never had a Christmas tree before. You should have seen the gratitude on the faces of the parents and the kids,” she said.

Packard added that it was heartwarming to watch excited children getting their photos taken with Santa.

For the love of Christmas

McDonley, a 2004 graduate of Rex Putnam High School, said he always loved Christmas as a child, so it seemed natural that he would want to spread holiday cheer around his city.

And although he is Milwaukie’s only Santa, there is another Santa that McDonley corresponds with online.

“I became friends with Drew Sherwood, who did the same thing in Canada. He calls himself Santa North and he calls me Santa South. This year he sent me a package full of candy canes. I’ve never met him, but he is my biggest supporter,” McDonley said.

McDonley wants to help people and make someone’s day a little brighter.

“I like to see the kids smiling, bright as a Christmas tree. By doing this, I am raising awareness that people need help, and I want to thank everyone who comes out to donate food and help,” he said.

The food will be delivered to more than 50 food pantries in the metro area and beyond; most of them are located in Catholic churches, but families do not need to be church members or religious at all, Packard said.

Emergency food boxes can feed a family for nearly a week and are available at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Milwaukie.

As Packard watched people drive by and honk and wave at Santa, she realized that what McDonley is doing is “truly in the Christmas spirit. It is what Christmas is meant to be.”

St. Vincent de Paul takes food and monetary donations all year. Call Ali Packard, development director of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul-Portland Council, 503-238-5567.




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