Howard said he couldn't do it without his wife, Barbara, who for years has kept the home fires burning on Christmas while Howard is out, busy spreading holiday cheer. Barbara also assists in the sorting, wrapping, stacking and delivery of presents.
“She's never complained,” Mike Howard says, “even when I couldn't be home with the family.”
This December will mark the 31st Christmas the Howard legacy has been attempting to find every needy child possible, to add a little something extra to their holiday.
Volunteers are due to arrive Saturday from Mississippi, and Howard said they always bring lots of toys. Howard said he estimates the group will bring 1,000 to 1,500 toys, several less than last year. Howard said he expects all of the bins in the storage warehouse will be full by Christmas.
“We started out with one truck,” Howard said. “Last year we delivered 95 truckloads.”
Howard said over 80 people usually show up for the Christmas Eve delivery. “We use 27 to 29 trucks that day alone.”
This year, with Dec. 24. falling on a Sunday, Howard said the main delivery date will be “Christmas Eve-Eve,” or Dec. 23. That way, it will not interfere with church services for Howard or any of the volunteers.
The whole Howard family participates in the gathering, wrapping and even the delivery of presents. Howard said when his son, Jordan, was about 6, he asked if Santa Claus was real. “I told him ‘no' and he started snubbing up. He said, ‘Yeah, but Daddy - you're Santa Claus.'”
There are no reindeer on the property - only ‘horse-powered' engines are used to deliver the packages, though Barbara Howard laughed and said they used to raise baby deer. One of the favorite memories the Howards cherish was the year a teacher brought her students to meet Howard and see how the ministry operates. When it came time to leave, Howard said the teacher was one student short.
“He came running around the house and said, ‘I know Santa Claus is real now. I've seen his reindeer.'”
Howard said he has seen some of the saddest home situations and smiles when he remembers the faces of children he has brought so much happiness to over the years. Some of the ones he has helped are the ones who are supporting him now.
Last year, he delivered 98 bicycles, 65 of which were brand new.
“Last night a man I helped brought about $150 to $200 worth of toys. He said I helped him when he was out of work to give Christmas to his kids.”
“We couldn't do this without all the volunteers,” Howard said about the scale of his operation. A truck is expected from Louisville on Dec. 15. Howard said the truck and volunteers arrive around 10-11 p.m. and they stay until around 1 to 2 a.m. After that, the volunteers go to the hotel and come back the next day to help deliver gifts.
Howard is giving gifts, in some instances to the second and getting close to the third generation of families.
Barbara joked if she ever quits, he's hurting. Mike Howard agrees.
Howard and his volunteers will be having their annual Wallins toy drop from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. this Saturday, at the stop light. All donations, both monetary and toys, will be accepted for needy children. Donations may also be sent to Mike Howard, 268 Santa Lane, Wallins, KY 40873. Howard can also be reached at 664-2458.