Santa and Friends Nagoya is one of those community groups that Nagoya has become famous for; an informal group of foreigners and Japanese who gather together to make a difference in their community.
While the group focuses on a yearly Christmas event for Nagoya-based orphanages, it is active year-round with events almost every month.
This year, the Hilton Nagoya recognised the importance of this unique group by donating ¥525,000 of the proceeds from its annual Christmas Train. Recently, we spoke to James Hedden who was on hand to receive the funds on behalf of the group.
NAGMAG: Can you describe what Santa and Friends Nagoya does?
James Hedden: Santa and Friend Nagoya (SFN) is a fantastic group of people, both Japanese and foreign, who have been caring for a number of orphanages in Nagoya since 2004. Up until 2009, our activities basically consisted of a yearly Christmas event to help spread Christmas joy to over 200 local orphans.
Since 2010, we have been visiting the orphanages on a monthly basis to spend time with the children and promote interaction between our volunteers, the orphanage staff, and the children themselves. Our activities include music, dance, crafts, English, sports, BBQs, beach trips, and more.
NM: Santa and Friends was officially formed in January of 2009, but it actually originated in 2004. How has the core objective of the group changed over the years?
JH: Good question. Our interaction with the children has increased dramatically, as we are visiting the locations on a monthly basis. In addition to this, we try to attend various events and ceremonies put on by the orphanages to show our continued support. When we first started back in 2004, the main objective was to bring a little Christmas joy to the children. This objective continues each and every year but now as our relationships with the children and organizations grow stronger, so does our commitment to interact with the children as much as possible. I guess the key change in our objective is this commitment.
NM: How did you get involved?
JH: I owe credit to my sister, actually. Many years ago on a Christmas morning in Utsunomiya, Tochigi, my brother-in-law, my sister and I were relaxing after a Christmas breakfast. It was then that my sister Trish said, “We should go out and help a few people today”. We ended up buying bentos, blankets, and hot tea and drove around giving the items to the local homeless. This continued for a number of years before moving to Nagoya. On my first Christmas here, I got a call from my sister and she asked “So what are you doing for Christmas?”, to which I replied shabu shabu and all-you-can-drink!
The next year after many shabu shabu sessions, I decided to give back. I and a friend, Sam Hamrosi, decided to organize a Christmas event for local orphans. I proceeded to the Naka Ward Office and inquired as to the number of orphanages in Nagoya. At that time I was quite surprised to learn there were 19 orphanages locally; four located fairly close to me. I could not decide which of the four locations to visit, so all four were chosen.
To be honest, I never envisioned SFN developing into what it is today. What keeps us going is the core group of amazing volunteers who continually put in consistent effort throughout the year.
NM: What is the one thing about working with Santa and Friends that has surprised you the most?
JH: It continues to amaze me how much good comes back from continued effort to help others. The key is continuity! Some get it, some don’t!
NM: This year, the Hilton Nagoya donated a substantial amount of funds to your organization. What does the group plan to do with it?
JH: The donation received from Craig and the Hilton was a great surprise this year. The agreement with the Hilton was that we needed to show where the funds would be utilized. As we are all volunteers and we have very little overhead, we decided to contact the four orphanages and ask where these funds could be best used. Later in December, we will be heading out on a shopping spree for electric carpets, futons, heaters, vacuum cleaners, bicycles, tricycles, a washing machine and more. Look out K’s Denki… negotiation time!
NM: How can people get involved? What kinds of assistance do you need?
JH: If you would like to get involved, you first must register as a SFN volunteer. You can go to our website to do this. The next step is to attend one of our monthly meetings. We generally have the meetings on the 2nd Friday of each month. Check our site for updates.
NM: I know you are having your main Christmas events in early December, but what are the plans for next year?
JH: Monthly activities, a ski trip, camping, BBQ, a beach trip, our Christmas event, and a few surprises. We hope to set up a few tours and study / internships for the children. If you have some great ideas, come out and get involved.
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