‘Snapshots with Santa’ returns with greater community impact

Published 1:28 am Wednesday, November 16, 2022

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Coming back after a two-year hiatus, the Francis family’s fourth annual Pictures with Santa event has taken on a new focus for a deeper community impact.

Now known as “Snapshots with Santa!”, the free community event will take place from noon to 4 p.m. Sunday, December 11 at 299 Belle Terre Blvd. in LaPlace. This year, the Francis family is partnering with New Wine Christian Fellowship, the Department of Children & Family Services and St. John the Baptist Child Welfare to spread the Christmas spirit to local foster children in need.

While Snapshots with Santa! Is a non-profit event free and open to the community, attendees are asked to bring an item or item(s) to benefit local foster children.

Pictures with Santa began as a joke five years ago and transformed into an annual opportunity to bring joy to the families of St. John the Baptist Parish and surrounding areas during the most wonderful time of the year.

Byron Francis Jr. would dress as Santa, while Anitra Blue-Francis would play Mrs. Claus and their children, family and friends assisted as elves to bring door prizes, refreshments, music and fellowship to the community. Activities over the years included a cookie decorating contest and a live book reading from a local author, in addition to gift card raffles and photo opportunities with Santa.

The first 100 children attending this year’s event will receive a toy sponsored by New Wine Christian Fellowship with the support of Pastor Neil and Angela Bernard. Light refreshments and a DJ will be on-site. As guests arrive, they will be greeted by volunteers and have an opportunity to snap pictures with Santa Claus using personal cell phones or cameras.

“We wanted it to be more of a simple process this year,” Anitra Blue-Francis said. “In the past, we had a photographer come and take professional pictures, but I think that created another barrier for some of the community members who were not able to afford a $15 or $20 photo package. Most people are satisfied with the quality of pictures their smart devices are able to take. By doing snapshots with Santa, we can reach more people in the community.”

Snapshots with Santa! also eases the financial burden of the Christmas season for four attending families, chosen by random draw. The American Express gift card raffles will continue this year, with a total $2,500 to be given away during the event. Gift cards will be drawn on the hour, increasing in value each hour from $250 to $500 to $700 and finally to $1,000.

Those in attendance will also be invited to address a personal, anonymous note to a foster child.

“The past two years, I had an opportunity to really take some time to think about how we can have a deeper impact on the community. I connected with Pastor Neil Bernard and shared our goal for this year, and he shared with me that there are two groups of people typically overlooked – foster children and immigrants,” Blue-Francis said.

Connecting with Child Welfare Manager LaShonda Miller-Dorsey, Blue-Francis learned that local foster children are in need of all essential items including but not limited to diapers, bottles, toys, clothes, hair products and toiletries. Items are needed for children of all ages, ranging from infants to 17/18-year-olds.

Miller-Dorsey indicated that any donations are greatly appreciated, especially since the St. John the Baptist Parish Child Welfare office located at W. Airline Highway Ste. M was destroyed during Hurricane Ida. Staff are continuing to provide critical services to the most vulnerable in the St. John Parish community while working out of an office in Baton Rouge without the usual resources that were once available in the LaPlace location.

“By asking people to bring donations and write an anonymous note to a foster child, we want to be able to offer words of encouragement, spread the holiday cheer, and most importantly remind them of who they are in Christ,” Blue-Francis said.