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BEACON Senior News

Santa's senior helpers spread holiday joy at Christmas Unlimited

Nov 22, 2023 10:47AM ● By Lisa Lowdermilk

"The most wonderful time of the year”? Often, but not always. The loss of a loved one, financial hardship or the pressure to keep up appearances—any of these can derail the happy holidays children dream about and parents strive to provide. 

Local charity Christmas Unlimited makes the holidays sweeter for children who might otherwise do without. It even rekindles childlike wonder in grown-up gift-givers’ hearts. Like many Christmas stories, its origin is a humble one that belies the positive impact a few dedicated volunteers can make. 

In 1923, several altruistic citizens banded together at the Newton Lumber Yard to bring Christmas to families needing a boost across the Pikes Peak region. These volunteers, who called themselves the “Mrs. Santa Claus Club,” repaired toys, painted sleds, collected donations and identified families in need. Their efforts laid the foundation for what would become Christmas Unlimited, one of the region’s oldest charities and one of the state’s largest nonprofit toy distributors. “Helping children believe in the magic of Christmas and adults in the kindness of the human spirit” is their simple yet inspirational mission. 



Throughout the charity’s 100-year history, many leaders have taken that mission statement to heart in their efforts to serve the families of the Pikes Peak region. One of Christmas Unlimited’s most influential leaders was the late Bob Tretheway, who served from 1991-2017 and helped save the organization from bankruptcy. 

In his role as president and later executive director, Tretheway turned to creative methods of fundraising, including bingo. Though Christmas Unlimited lost its location at that time, Tretheway and his team of dedicated volunteers helped secure a new space at Chapel Hills Mall. He also helped grow the three largest toy collections: the HOGS Toy Run, KRDO’s Santa’s Toy Drive and KKTV’s Toy Drive. Equally inspiring was Tretheway’s commitment to mentoring local youths. 

“Bob was a wonderful, amazing human being who was able to get things done. He worked with group homes in town, as he wanted teens to have stability and be able to volunteer,” noted Christmas Unlimited’s president Sharon Dewitt, 53. 

Mike Tapia, 67, currently serves as executive director. Like Tretheway, Tapia has a long history of putting others’ needs before his own. 

Having worked in fundraising since he was 17, Tapia raised funds for many charitable causes, including the Jerry Lewis Telethon for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. And Tapia passed on his love of helping others.

“My son introduced me to Christmas Unlimited,” Tapia said. 

His son Phil began volunteering for Christmas Unlimited while he was still in high school.

“My greatest pleasure is seeing the stress come off families’ faces when they come here,” said Tapia. “There’s nothing quite like seeing their smiles replace that stress.” 


The Holiday Toy Distribution is perhaps the charity’s best-known program. Parents receive shopping passes, which they can exchange for toys inside Christmas Unlimited’s shop. 

Toys are assigned a point value ranging from 0 to 15 points. The goal is to help alleviate financial stress while giving parents and caretakers a sense of empowerment to carefully select gifts for their children. On average, each child’s gifts total around $50.

“When times are tough, Christmas Unlimited was there for my family,” said Joleda Ortiz, 39. “They made sure my children had presents under the tree and a smile on their faces.”

Parents can choose from a variety of toys, including LEGOs, action figures, toy musical instruments and even bicycles. Because Christmas Unlimited is committed to safety, a helmet accompanies every bike. 

“I love seeing parents getting things their kids are really going to enjoy,” Dewitt said. 

Parents and guardians with children aged 12 and younger can apply for the program by filling out an application online in English or Spanish. The deadline is December 8, but time slots fill quickly. 

Christmas Unlimited doesn’t ask about income—the child’s birth certificate is the only document needed. They ask caretakers to refrain from bringing their children so they will be surprised on Christmas morning. 


This year, Christmas Unlimited hopes to serve 9,000 children. But meeting this goal won’t be easy. Inflation and the deaths of several key donors have forced the organization to rethink funding strategies. 

On December 2, they’re partnering with Pima Institute for the annual Chasing Santa race, a 5K run or 15K cycling event for the whole family. Participants dress up in Santa suits and are encouraged to donate toys.

Tapia is hoping that with help from local donors and corporate sponsors, 2023 will be Christmas Unlimited’s biggest year yet—a fitting milestone for the organization’s 100th anniversary this year. 

Christmas Unlimited isn’t just here for the holidays, though—it also offers programs for families in need year-round. 

Operation Back to School distributes school supplies to students across El Paso and Teller counties. Comfort Plush offers solace to kids in crisis through new stuffed animals, which Christmas Unlimited donates to area police and fire departments. These “stuffies” are one way emergency service professionals alleviate a child’s distress during a traumatic situation.


Christmas Unlimited operates from a warehouse on 2204 E. Boulder St., which is also where their thrift store is located. This location has served as their home base since 2002, following years of frequent moves. 

At this time of year, volunteers fill the building. They are the lifeblood of Christmas Unlimited, and for many, it’s an experience that brings the whole family together. 

“There’s lots of generational volunteering,” Dewitt said. “I started volunteering with my mom and have continued to do so. There’s just nothing like being able to help parents during a time that can be really stressful.” 

Mary Munoz, 87, has volunteered for more than 38 years. Often her late husband, Gil, and their kids pitched in to help. 

Volunteer Chuck Miller, 88, has also served for 38 years. Miller picks up toy and school supply donations from more than 24 local fire station locations. 

Linda Rogers Millicia, 68, has worn many hats in her 33 years of volunteering, from manager of Christmas Unlimited’s thrift store to board president, and she coordinates donations with other local charities. 

Seniors comprise the majority of Christmas Unlimited’s volunteers, providing services as varied as door greeting to helping with the annual Ugly Sweater Fest. More than 240 big-hearted “Santa’s helpers” contribute over 11,000 hours of service yearly. 

The joy of creating magic for children and kindness for adults despite life’s odds has prevailed. It has led to tens of thousands of parents, grandparents, foster parents and children reaping the generosity of “neighbors helping neighbors” for the past century, and hopefully the century to come.

For more information on Christmas Unlimited, call 719-597-1821.