Ira Reflects on Being Ritter Center’s Santa
“It’s a delight to be a part of it. Great joy indeed!”
88-year-old Ira and his wife of 61 years Pat Potovsky, began their connection with Ritter through the Adopt-A-Family holiday program.
“What drew us in was this idea of picking a family with helping to provide what they need for their children that they couldn’t quite afford to give to their kids and themselves. I remember buying a bicycle and blankets,” recalled Ira and Pat together.
This volunteer effort has become a family affair, now encompassing no less than three Potovsky generations. The grandparents, children, and grandchildren volunteer at the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday dinner every year to help set up and serve the guests.
Eventually, Ira became Santa Claus!
“I had to get a pillow to become fat enough to look like Santa,” remembered Ira. “The costume also had a great white beard that I took advantage of to play the part. At first, the kids would hide in mom’s skirt and cry. I had to learn to cajole them into sitting on my lap. Turned out that peppermint candy canes were the secret!”
“It’s a delight to be a part of it. Great joy indeed!” continued Ira. “For over 20 years, I used to feed the homeless for lunch at Mt. Carmel in Mill Valley. I got to know a lot of the guys there and when they would come to the Ritter Center holiday meal, I would greet them warmly. Year after year coming, repeating, we would remember each other and give each other a hug. It’s a true community.”
“It takes a tremendous amount of effort and months of planning for the staff and volunteers to pull off the holiday meals,” notes Pat. “From putting out the tables to making sure the teachers have had the students decorate the placemats for the table setting – it is a lot of coordination but worth every moment. With the Christmas trees and lights in the window, it’s absolutely beautiful. When I come into the kitchen, I think about the work behind the scenes to get a company to donate thousands of green beans and the many pounds of meat. But the second the people come in, you see it in their faces. That holiday spirit. Perhaps it reminds them of what they used to have for Christmas as a child. I think it sometimes brings back memories of good times when they were younger and had their own family.”
“Our kids grew up in Marin with all they ever needed or wanted. So this is an important experience to impart to our children and grandchildren. Everyone is not fortunate as we are and we want them to recognize that,” urges Pat. “Now it’s so wonderful for our volunteering to be a family affair. Our children and grandchildren help to do some of the heavy lifting, the clean-up and tasks like mopping of the floors.”
“It’s hard to put into words how much joy this brings us. There are so many moments in time. It can be something as simple as the bags we hand out at the end with practical items like socks and soap to 175 people,” remember Pat and Ira together. “Or it can be as unique as one memory I’ll never forget. They brought out a bicycle for a 10 year old girl and she broke into tears. That present meant so much to that little girl, and just as much for her mother to be able to supply it.”
Although Ira won’t be donning his Santa suit this year for Ritter Center, he’s looking forward to bringing the laughter and smiles back next year when it’s safe.