The bumper cars, rides, arcade games and play areas weren’t the only things to disappear when the Mr. Biggs Family Fun Center shut down in April.
With a part of the cavernous building on Mark Dabling Boulevard now being used for a call center, it means the Best Christmas Ever, a holiday giveaway for needy families, is going away as well.
“There were thoughts of considering other places to hold the Best Christmas Ever, but Mr. Biggs is what made our event so unique,” said Natalie Igou, executive director of America’s Family, which staged the event at Mr. Biggs with about two dozen other nonprofits.
During the giveaway, families could avail themselves of the games, rides and activities at Mr. Biggs before they loaded up on food, toys and clothing.
“Without Mr. Biggs, we don’t really have that uniqueness.”
But America’s Family isn’t completely abandoning its Santa role. In an email sent to supporters and previous participants earlier this week, the nonprofit recommends that people donate toys, food and bikes to two other high-profile events: El Paso County DHS/Feed the Children, and the Bob Telmosse Christmas Giveaway, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year.
America’s Family is also taking online donations for the Feed the Children event through Dec. 31, and is telling people in need to contact the 2-1-1 referral hotline for more information.
“We talked with Carol (Reinert) at Bob Telmosse, and she’s been gracious enough to let us refer our previous guests to her, and 2-1-1 is helping everybody in general,” Igou said.
It’s a full-circle story for the Bob Telmosse Christmas Giveaway, which started with an apparent hoax in 1983. Someone placed a classified ad in what was then called the Gazette Telegraph about an Easter food giveaway in the parking lot of Telmosse’s furniture store. People showed up, only to find they’d been duped. When news of the hoax spread, the public rallied around Telmosse with loads of donations, and he held a real giveaway a few days later. He soon moved the giveaway to coincide with Christmas.
In 2007, however, the Telmosse giveaway almost fell by the wayside when the board could not reach an agreement with the organization that ran it the previous year. Steve Bigari, owner of Mr. Biggs and founder of America’s Family, offered the indoor amusement emporium for the giveaway — an arrangement that lasted two years.
The Telmosse board decided to split its giveaway off in 2009 to focus on its “no-questions-asked” roots, while America’s Family and its Best Christmas Ever decided to limit admission to clients of safety net organizations and nonprofits who were given tickets to attend.
“No questions asked; that will totally remain,” said Reinert, Telmosse’s widow and a board member of the foundation that bears his name. “You just show up. As long as we have turkeys, food, bikes and toys, we’ll keep giving them away. That’s the premise Bob built it on, and he would absolutely be doing cartwheels to know we’ve made it 30 years.”
The year’s Telmosse giveaway will be Dec. 21 at the Freedom Financial Services Expo Center. The big push for donations and volunteers will begin later this month. For more information, go to www.santa-bob.org.
Feed the Children — a partnership of the El Paso County Department of Human Services, Mercy Springs, Springs Church, Goodwill Industries, The Music Evangelism Foundation and other donors and volunteers — is limited to DHS clients. This year’s event is Dec. 8. To donate or to volunteer, contact Becky Jacobs: 444-8191 or firstname.lastname@example.org.