The Magic of Christmas Brings Santa to MO 

By Cheryl Conway

 

Lifelong resident Justin Wentzel, aka “Santa for a Month,” reflects on this season’s past, remains humble and gives thanks and praise to all of his elves who helped him along the way.  

That feeling of “It’s better to give than receive” seems to resonate with Wentzel who plans to continue on his sleigh to make lives brighter for other people. 

“This past Christmas I took it upon myself to make Christmas happen for all the underprivileged children in town by purchasing $8,250 in Walmart gift cards and toys —not once but twice,” Wentzel shares how he spent his December 2023. 

“One hundred percent went to the families in town who could simply not afford to give their children toys for Christmas.”

With multiple posts on Facebook, such as on the Mount Olive Community Forum page, Wentzel offered a gift-giving initiative to those who may have been struggling this past season. 

In his Dec. 14 post, he writes, “Are you a family with children who cannot afford toys for Christmas? Well tomorrow at 1 p.m. I will be at Walmart in ITC in a Santa hat. I will purchase up to $100 per family of any toys you want for your children, wrapping paper, tape and bows. There is no shame in needing help and certainly no judgment.”

In his Dec. 20 post he writes, Doing it again. This Friday from 5-6 p.m., myself and my elves will be at Walmart in ITC in Santa hats. We will have a table set up outside filled with toys.”

In an earlier post, Wentzel explains how he turned into Santa.

“Yesterday, before I left my house, I put $25 in my pocket for lunch, don’t judge my lunch budget I’m a big guy, but first I had to stop at Kohls to return Amazon products. While in Kohls waiting in line there was a little boy, dressed poorly yet clean. He picked up a $24.97 large plush stuffed animal and softly approached his mother, held it up to her and said, ‘please mommy.’ She looked at him with sadness in her eyes and said, ‘I’m sorry honey but we can’t afford it.’ Without hesitation or an uttered word, he put it back. I reached into my pocket, took out the $25, walked up to him and said ‘hey little buddy, here, please buy that! Merry Christmas.’ He looked at his mom, his mom started crying and nodded yes. He then bear hugged me, said ‘thank you’ and picked back up the plush stuffed animal and hugged it tightly. I just went back to standing in line with a warm feeling of joy. It wasn’t until I got to my car that the gravity of what transpired hit me. I started crying tears of joy with a giant smile on my face.”

He knew what he wanted to do so he started posting on Facebook, and to his surprise, caused a chain reaction of others who wanted to help.

“Three people messaged me asking for my forms of online payment to sponsor a family, so I decided to post my online payment info. On the thread and BOOM. This community came together, possibly like never before to save Christmas for children in need. My phone did not stop dinging with donations.”    

Like Santa, he had helpers.

People donated money and Walmart gift cards, shopped, donated toys and wound up helping more than 80 families this past holiday season.

“The entire town contributed to my efforts,” he says. “The recognition should be to not just me but the entire town which aided me in this quest. We set up tables and made countless trips to Five Below and filled them to the brim. People from town and even shoppers stopped at the tables and donated toys for everyone. It was magical.”

Wentzel personally thanks his wife Jackie Wentzel and his son Colton Wentzel for their support, as well as Graig Berkowitz, owner of Pure Ink Tattoo in Ledgewood;  Shelley and Kristen Berkowitz, the entire Mt. Olive Police Department, Paul Hunn, Pat Derosa, Derek Gompertz, Shawn Lyons, Nicole Papa and Shawna Bianculli.

“Without all their help I couldn’t have done this,” he says. 

“I did this not for recognition or praise,” explains Wentzel. “I love this town, always have and wanted to give to those who couldn’t afford to give. 

“For me, Christmas has always been the one day a year where we act a little nicer, we smile a little easier and for a couple of hours we are the people we always hoped we would be,” he writes on Facebook. “The outpouring of help. Selfless giving and holiday cheer have brought peace and harmony to hundreds of local families and children.

“I will do this every single year at Christmas,” he says. “There is no stopping the Mount Olive Santa. Also have some big plans for 2024 with Mayor Joe and his assistant Lisa so stay tuned.”

On the off season, Wentzel runs his own jewelry business, Ice Storm Jewelry in New York City, with a home office in Mt. Olive, to do custom jewelry and precious metals purchasing. 

He has been working in the jewelry business for the past 15 years after realizing that was his “absolute passion.”

He offers people in town 98.2% of value for their old and unwanted precious metals, coins etc. 

During the holidays, he even gave some jewelry giveaways such as four necklaces he made with sterling silver and white sapphires to families to give as gifts to a wife or a daughter who otherwise could not afford it.

Wentzel concludes with his favorite Bible verse: “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”

And Wentzel said, “Here I am. Send me!”  

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