October 26, 2017
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Ms. Santa Claus, Patricia Ross, helps bring joy to thousands of children each year.

LA VERNE, California, October 27, 2017 — This may come as a shock to many of you, but Santa doesn’t live in the North Pole , or even the mall. No, Santa lives in La Verne, and Santa, is a she, not a he.

This real-person Santa is Patricia Ross, who worked 34 years for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, the last 25 as an investigator for the District Attorney’s office, so if there’s anybody who knows the whole truth and can come clean on all of this Santa Claus business — trying to give kids and families a happy Christmas when they’re having a tough time making ends meet — it’s Ross.

Using a few detective qualities of our own, tracked down Ross in Ontario, where she has served the last three years as president of Santa Claus of Chaffey District, Inc., a non-profit organization (with the funny name) founded in 1955 that has provided Christmas gifts to about 3,000 needy families annually for the last 62 consecutive years.

When Ross retired from L.A. County in 2010, she began volunteering for Santa Claus. Until then, she only donated to the organization because of her crazy schedule. Her reason for increasing her involvement was as pure as Santa’s frosty white beard.

“I just can’t stand the thought of some kid, not having a good Christmas,” she said. “It just drives me nuts.

“Imagine that you’re a little kid,” she went on, “and you’ve heard all your life that Santa will bring you stuff if you’ll just be good all year long, and then Santa doesn’t make it to your house.

“And then, when you go back to school and hear your friends say, ‘Look what Santa brought me,’ that can really mess with your head.”

The ‘Guy’ is wired and can fix almost any electronics toy inside Santa’s workshop.

For Ross, she lives and thrives to build up kids’ self-esteem, not to tear it down, yet Santa’s official Ontario headquarters seems an incongruous location to spin so much confidence-building. The Santa Claus building is a slump-stone concrete-block, bunker-type compound that looks more like a prison than it does Santa’s official workshop. Nonetheless, once inside (we had to be buzzed in because it’s not located in the safest of neighborhoods), we found it a magical place, where all of Ross’s elves, including the head Elf herself, aren’t paid a single cent for their feverish labor.

“The only people who get paid are the people who clean the bathroom and mow the yard,” Ross said.

As proof, we saw workers scrubbing grimy used Lego blocks clean with toothbrushes and steel-wooling the spokes of old bicycle wheels, intent on making them shine anew.

“Some of the stuff that comes in, you’re not sure you even want to touch it,” Ross said. In particular, Ross recalled a rocking horse with fur so tangled and matted that nobody wanted to be in the room with it, but today it is rocking again.

Janet helps all Barbie dolls stay youthful.

So, at its Christmas core, Santa Claus of Chaffey District, Inc., is a really massive salvage operation, with a super big heart, that brings everything from beat-up Barbies to broken bikes back to life.

The organization’s recycling ethos goes back to its founding in 1955, when two ladies at a PTA meeting noticed a young girl with no jacket playing in the cold air. They asked her teachers if they could make a jacket for the girl, and were told they could, but would have to make two jackets because the girl had a sister. The ladies made the jackets and included some gently used dolls they had cleaned and dressed in the packages. The packages were given to the girls’ parents to be given at Christmas from Santa Claus.

Today, the organization tries to breathe new life into every it touches.

“We go through every game, every puzzle, to make sure there are no missing pieces, we make them whole again,” Ross said.

So in addition to Santa Claus’ jolly red side, Ross and company also have a very “green” side.

“Whatever, we can do to keep this stuff out of landfills!” Ross admitted. “We try not to give up on anything.

“By extending the lives of things, we can give kids more,” Ross explained.

Defending the group’s pack-rat mentality, one volunteer added, “If something doesn’t work today, we can probably get it to work tomorrow by putting in a new ‘old’ part.”

Rick revitalizes old sports equipment.

One reason Ross and her co-volunteers are so successful in their salvage efforts is they have developed a winning formula and a process honed over 62 years, and they have experts at a variety of toy stations who know how to apply and execute the process. This is a division of labor and a labor of love that would make that original capitalist, Adam Smith, envious.

For example, volunteer Guy is an electronic whiz who rewires old electronic products, Rick likes to rehab old sporting goods, and Janet heads up the restoration of fashion dolls like Barbie and Bratz. Also under the same roof, Carol reconditions baby dolls and two or three different volunteers refurbish old bikes. One worker restores old Tonka trucks, even fabricating new metal parts for them, so they look like they just came off the assembly line.

Meanwhile, another Carol meticulously turns the pages of every used book to ensure the materials are clean and age-appropriate.

“That’s our literacy component,” Ross said.

But while Santa Claus of Chaffey District, Inc. knows how to replace a missing rhinestone from a tiara to make it look new again, don’t think for a second that the nonprofit peddles only used stuff. The organization’s genius is combining the old with the new, so that kids and families can’t tell the difference.

For example, ABATE of California, a motorcycle rights organization in conjunction with Pomona Valley Harley Davidson, regularly participates in a motorcycle drive that delivers new bicycles to Santa Claus of Chaffey District’s doorstep.

Jeff Bazler helps the Pomona Valley HOGs in conjunction with ABATE deliver more than a 100 new bikes to Santa Claus of Chaffey District each year.

Ross, in fundraising talks around town, (and she’ll speak to anybody anywhere if you just extend the invitation), will bring a Christmas package that combines both new and refurbished toys and then asks her audience to see if they can tell the difference. They usually can’t.

From the first Monday in February through the last Wednesday in September, Santa Claus of Chaffey District, Inc. acts as a collection center, taking in all kinds of donations. Some toys come from Disney stores, others from yard and estate sales. Ross isn’t picky.

Since they rarely throw anything out, knowing that a part from an old chain or set of handles of one trashed bike might help restore another one, it’s a wonder they have room to store anything.

“I have two storage lockers that I put stuff in,” Ross said. “And I haven’t had a car in my three-car garage in seven years.”

Beverly DiTammasi works wonders in the shop.

In October, operations start gearing up for registration in November and distribution in December. Santa Claus of Chaffey District, Inc., serves the cities of Ontario, Montclair, Upland, Rancho Cucamonga, Fontana, and Chino.

Parents wishing to obtain gifts for their children must register in person – no telephone registrations will be honored. To register, the parent must bring in a birth certificate and a second form of identification (Social Security Card, Immunization Record, or School Identification Card) for each of their children. The parent must be listed on the birth certificate as one of the child’s parents. The parent must present their valid California Driver’s License or Identification Card.

“We do not inquire about financial status, we only require that there is a need,” Ross said.

In addition, the parent must present proof of residency, such as a current utility bill or bank statement. Pregnant mothers must bring in proof of pregnancy, such as a doctor’s note or ultrasound.  Santa Claus of Chaffey District, Inc. serves about 200 to 300 new or expectant moms a year.

“There will be people who will stand outside for 12 hours so they can be first in line to register,” Ross said.

Carol Garrett is an expert at refurbishing baby dolls.

This year, registration will take place over three days in mid-November.

During registration, parents or guardians also include the name, age and gender of each child.

In December, when actual gift distribution begins, it is a sight to behold. Like clockwork, the Santa Claus of Chaffey District, Inc. runs nonstop from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. over three days.

“We will run 70 families an hour through our facility,” Ross said.

Each shopper, escorted by a volunteer, gets to pick out at least one book per child (two in better years), a “primary” package of toys and a “bonus” package of toys. Some families receive an additional gift — something that everyone can enjoy. All told, the retail value of the presents can easily reach between $100 and $200 for each child.

Nancy Schroeder never stops working her magic.

This year, Santa Claus of Chaffey District, Inc. will again provide gifts for thousands of children, a miraculous act in itself considering the nonprofit’s shoestring budget. While it’s rent is cheap ($18 a month), it is responsible for all its utilities. Buying batteries, on which so many electronic toys depend, also is a huge expense.

The building, now a half century old, also is in desperate need of repair.

“The building is literally falling to pieces,” Ross said. “I’m trying desperately to get our parking lot repaired because with 80- and 90-year-old people working here, and with all the cracks and all the buckling, I’m afraid someone is going to take a fall.

“It could be catastrophic.”

Ross isn’t exaggerating. She’s a detective whose observations are clinical and attached to facts, not hyperbole.

“We need help with our operating expenses,” she said. “That’s where we fall short.”

When vandals destroyed two security gates behind which stand many of the gifts that will find their way into children’s waiting hands, she reached into her own pockets to put up new ones.

Dolly is another critical team member.

Despite its huge outreach, Santa Claus of Chaffey District, Inc. doesn’t receive any support from the city of Ontario.

“Somehow, we manage to keep going,” Ross said.

And much of the reason the organization continues to exist is due to the youthful optimism of its mostly senior volunteers and the blunt never-say-die spirit of Ross, their leader.

“I’ll knock on every door; I know there are people out there who can help us,” said Ross, who was born the same year the organization she now leads was founded.

Despite all the gritty things in life Ross has seen as a hard-bitten detective, she is still a kid at heart. The lady still  believes in Santa Claus.

If you would like to contribute, or become involved as a volunteer,

call 909.984.6627.

Reporting coverage provided by Eddie’s Italian Eatery in Claremont, Manfro Mortgage in San Dimas and 986 Pharmacy and Taste of Asia in La Verne.


Patricia with her mom, Lynn, pair up on all kinds of restoration projects.



Old bicycles never know when they’ll be called into service.


  1. I couldn’t be more blessed to know Pat Ross as a down to earth great gal with endless unconditional love!! What an awesome organization that continues to be successful because of people like Pat!! I am looking forward to volunteering December 10th! Thank you Pat for asking me!! ❤️
    Lisa Gardner

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