CHEEKTOWAGA, N.Y. (WIVB) – Before the stores opened for the morning Sunday and the usual hustle and bustle of the holiday shopping bonanza could begin, Santa was in his chair at the Walden Galleria meeting some of his biggest fans.
Sunday morning brought the first of two Santa Cares events at the Galleria, which are aimed specifically at families of children with special needs.
“Kind of a quieter atmosphere, there’s no music playing, the lights are low,” pointed out Renee LaRusch, locations manager for the Walden Galleria, “so for our sensory-need individuals or people that need a little bit more time, they can come in and visit Santa.”
8-year-old Dominic was among Santa’s visitors this weekend.
His foster parents, Darryl and Kathryn Brennan, helped share his wish list with Santa while Dominic posed for a photo.
Dominic has autism and is non-verbal.
Without a special event like Santa Cares, Dominic may have found meeting Santa a bit too much.
“It would be a 50/50 go on that,” Darryl Brennan said. “Sometimes he can handle it, sometimes he can’t.”
The Brennans say the crowds from a typical day meeting Santa at a mall can be especially tough for kids like Dominic.
“The more commotion makes it more difficult for the children to be waiting, and they don’t like to wait,” Kathryn Brennan explained. “They like to be first, and they don’t understand that they have to wait.”
Dominic had almost no wait for his turn to see Santa on Sunday morning to let him know what was on his holiday wish list.
The perfect present for Dominic is already on the way, though. After three years in the care of his foster parents, the Brennans are adopting Dominic in just a couple weeks.
“I’m very happy that he’s going to have a forever home. He’s been very treasured in our house and very loved,” Kathryn Brennan said.
Santa is helping spread love and joy to other kids this holiday season, too.
On average, 30 or more families come to each Santa Cares event.
The Man in Red and his helpers are always welcoming and always patient, to help make sure every visitor gets the best shot.
“We never turn anybody away. They have to get their wishes in whether they’re verbal or non-verbal,” LaRusch said. “And Santa always knows.”
The Walden Galleria is hosting another Santa Cares event on Sunday, December 8 from 9 a.m. until 11 a.m. They’re also accepting donations to Autism Speaks during these events.
Santa will continue to meet with all kids – and even pets – through Christmas Eve at the Galleria.