Kenneth Isaacson knows all too well – that depending where you are and who you are, the holiday season doesn’t always feel so festive.
When he was 17, and living in a foster care situation, Isaacson found himself wanting some distance between himself and his group home, come Christmas morning.
He started by cobbling together what he could manage, and delivering a few presents in his local area. Isaacson, who’s now 21, is from Dearborn Heights, which is about 20 miles west of Detroit.
It was a humbling start. But he was onto something. And these days? The project has evolved into SO much more.
Isaacson, known to some as “Kid Santa,” now has a team that delivers holiday presents across Michigan. Isaacson has enlisted lots of volunteers, and plenty of help, all in the name of making sure no child is left without gifts on Christmas morning.
It’s a massive effort. And there’s now some work being done year round, as well. Last summer, the Kid Santa project donated a substantial number of toys to local children who had lost theirs in area flooding.
The project has a storage area in Allen Park, Michigan, where team members store gifts throughout the months.
Considering how the group has grown, and the media attention it’s received over the past year or so, Isaacson said, they’ve been able to raise quite a bit of money at times.
And then once the Christmas season winds down, commercial businesses (often the big-box stores like Target and Walmart) will have huge sales and markdown events, so Kid Santa volunteers will hit the stores and make all the purchases they can.
“It’s all pristine stuff,” Isaacson said. “And then we store it.”
All this recent attention has increased the group’s buying power.
“When you help as many kids as we do, Target might not have the 57 ‘LOL Surprise’ boxes that we need (in early December),” Isaacson said. “We have to bypass the brick-and-mortar stores sometimes, because we need so many … we gave away hundreds of boxes of Legos last year, and dozens of the same exact Barbie set. We definitely have to have a little bit (of inventory) with us at all times. Any issue with the supply chain trickles down.”
Before 2021, the gifts entailed “a bag full of whatever I could get at the store,” Isaacson said.
These days, social media and local headlines have really helped the group expand.
“That’s the power of Facebook,” Isaacson said. “If you talk to the right people, it can be very persuasive.”
Now, Kid Santa even grants individual wishes, gets toys exactly where they need to go, and more. The group is even managed like a nonprofit organization, and at last check, it was waiting on official 501(c)(3) status.
A documentary crew came to the Detroit area in March, to interview Isaacson and those close to him about the project. Kid Santa organized a small toy drive while the crew was in town.
Isaacson, who’s very used to the media by now, hadn’t experienced that level of equipment before – the microphones, sound technology, drones; even the fact that they had to take a dog’s collar off at the house where Isaacson grew up, so that it didn’t interfere with sound operations.
Kid Santa is a big platform, but Isaacson doesn’t seem daunted by any of it. For someone who just turned 21, he speaks with the confidence of someone double his age – talking about what the group has accomplished, its plans for the future and beyond.
Isaacson has a heart for helping others. He’s worked as a firefighter and EMT, and hopes to get back into that kind of work again soon. For now, he’s been living on the west side of the state, attending Kalamazoo Valley Community College.
He delivers pizza to earn extra cash, but talks about his time as a firefighter fondly. He lights up; you can even hear it over the phone, when discussing his experiences.
“I still have a T-shirt on my wall from the first house fire I ever fought,” said Isaacson, who hopes to become a medic someday. “It still smells like it.”
Isaacson doesn’t always see all the people he’s helping, but that’s almost parallel to his work as Kid Santa.
“When I was a first-responder, I worked extra, I donated my overtime pay, and never got a thank-you – or expected one,” he said. “You’re in and out, and you just have to go home believing you did the right thing.”
It can be thankless, but he doesn’t mind. He realizes the impact of his work.
On Christmas morning, Isaacson truly plays the role of Santa. He has seen photos, maybe a dozen of them, showing some of the kids he’s helped, but there are probably 700 children in total who’ve benefitted. It’s incredible, what this project has grown into.
“We’re exhausted, come 8 a.m.,” Isaacson said. “The kids are waking up on the holiday while we go to bed.”
This past year, he didn’t even open his own presents until later in the day, once he had finally had a chance to sleep.
Isaacson knows being a former foster kid and firefighter likely helps the cause. People gravitate toward him and want to assist.
He’s proud of the group he’s built – and knows the foundation is solid, and Kid Santa could even run without him at this point.
“I could be in a car wreck today, but nothing would change. Maybe the meetings would be a bit more boring without my weird jokes,” he said with a laugh. “But we have a level of fluidity now.”
Here’s a 2021 TV report: