Millennium Fund gets surprise gift from Santa Claus
It was an unlikely chain of events that led Medina County resident Bob Pohto to the Millennium Fund for Children.
Pohto was flying out of Akron-Canton Regional Airport last December for a business trip in Mississippi when he came across someone handing out free copies of the Akron Beacon Journal. During the long flight, Pohto read the paper cover to cover, including a story about a Millennium Fund grant to RePlay for Kids.
Impressed with the program – which teaches volunteers to repair and adapt toys for children with disabilities – Pohto decided to keep the Millennium Fund in mind for a future donation opportunity.
The opportunity came that same week. Pohto’s wife called him in Mississippi and said a family member needed someone to dress up as Santa for her company Christmas party in Richfield.
Pohto quickly agreed on one condition: He wanted the company, CCG Automation, to make a donation to the charity of his choice. Having just read the newspaper article, Pohto chose the Millennium Fund for Children.
"I liked the whole concept (of the Millennium Fund)," Pohto said. "You take a small amount of money and put it in the right hands, and they can do a lot of good with it. And it was kid-oriented. When you’re Santa Claus, it’s all about the kids."
The Millennium Fund was founded with the philosophy that lots of small gifts can make a big impact. No one knows that better than Pohto: As a professional charity Santa Claus, he has been donating his proceeds to children’s charities for decades.
Pohto said it all stems from his love for Christmas and the joy his own children experienced during family Santa visits. Each year, Pohto and his wife would hire someone to dress up as Santa Claus for their daughters. They would read a book, and at the exact right moment, Santa would magically come through the door. "It was a big thrill for them," Pohto said. "It took a long time for them to figure it out."
He began his newfound hobby by renting a suit and beard for various fundraisers at his girls’ school and other community events. Eventually, as he grew older, he bought his own suit and grew an authentic white beard. "And I had the stomach for it, too," he joked.
Today, he refers to himself as Medina’s official Santa Claus and volunteers each year for the Candlelight Walk in the square. He also donates his services to nonprofits like Medina Health Ministry and the Salvation Army.
Pohto said one of the greatest joys of dressing up as Santa is seeing kids’ faces light up. "You’re part of the magic," he said. "It’s the best job I never got paid for."
It’s also one of the toughest jobs, he said. As Santa, he often hears about children’s heartbreaking home situations without being able to fix it. On those days, he takes comfort in the fact that charities like the Millennium Fund for Children are making life better for local kids. That’s one reason he can’t imagine keeping the money he makes as Santa.
"It wouldn’t be the same if I got paid," he said. "I call it a ministry."