Judi Kidder is an activist who initiates projects that address her pet causes, such as keeping Kodiak litter-free and helping the homeless.
Judi also initiated a Halloween project to help trick-or-treaters in neighborhoods where bears roam. Besides keeping kids safe, Judi and her helpers also feed kids hot dogs and hot chocolate, and hand out gifts, such as socks and books.
Perhaps Judi’s most cherished role is being Mrs. Santa Claus to her “Santa” husband, David Mastiner, in their Santa Project. This role gives her a vehicle in which she can practice her activism. The couple has brightened the Christmases of many in Kodiak as they visit homes, delivering gifts to children who eagerly await the arrival of the jolly man in red.
As the Clauses, Judi and David often deliver gifts that have been purchased by the parents for their children. But the couple, with help from the community, have distributed their own gifts.
Money that Judi and Dave raise through the Santa Project and donations from the community, goes into a fund that is available throughout the year to help people in need.
Judi explains that people in the homes they visit on Christmas Eve, donate to the Santa Project.
“I hold that money until after Christmas, because that’s when the bills come due.”
The Santa fund is used in a variety of ways.
Years ago Judi and Dave set up a Secret Santa account that helps people pay utility, electrical, waste management, grocery and other bills.
Judi recalls being in the grocery store, shortly after Christmas, and noticing a couple in line with a cart that carried their two children and some very basic staples. Their credit card was declined. The look on their faces expressed the desperation of “’What do we do now?’” said Kidder, who stepped out of line and handed the cashier a hundred dollar bill, telling her to give the change to the family. The couple broke out in tears and “gave David the biggest hug,” said Kidder.
There are countless stories of how the Santa Project has helped struggling people. While I recuperated at Providence Hospital in Anchorage, following my March 4 stroke, Judi heard, via Facebook, that my wife, Kathy, had run out of cell phone minutes, and was having to use another phone to relay messages. “I’m like, ‘That won’t do,’” said Judi. Kathy “needed to constantly update from the doctors.” So she purchased minutes for Kathy’s cell phone. “It was the least that we could do,” said Judi.
In another case, Judi and Dave were able to help a family remodel their house.
“Whenever people ask us to help, we don’t turn anyone away,” said Judi.
Judi has been helping Kodiak people since she came here in 2003. She joined the Lions Club, a service organization. Her help extended beyond Kodiak. She learned that an online friend in Oregon was having a “hard candy” Christmas. The lady’s daughter and boyfriend and their kids had moved into the house with the online friend, and they had very little.
Kidder arranged for the Lions club in Oregon to deliver a real Christmas tree and presents to the home. “That was a profound thing,” said Kidder.
In Kodiak, a lady asked Judi if she could arrange for Santa to see her grandchildren, who were visiting. The grandmother wanted to pay Judi and David for their kindness, but the couple asked for a donation to the project instead.
Even before Judi and David initiated the Santa Project, they reached out to the needy, cooking meals for people, buying them groceries, visiting residents in the care center, and doing other charitable deeds.
“People started asking if we did Santa rounds,” said Kidder “It became a regular thing from there. David upgraded his Santa suit.”
This is the fifth year of the Santa Project. During the first year of its operation, they raised $400. Last year they raised $1,000. “It’s incredible,” said Kidder.
In their Santa rounds, Judi and David follow a certain routine. In some cases, David will knock at the front door, announcing that he is looking for his reindeer. In one home a boy started pulling his boots on, so he could help find them.
In another home a kid was at the window of the front door. “He took one look at Santa and booked upstairs and jumped into bed,” said Kidder. After all, Santa rewards children who go to bed early.
When David’s kids were young, they dressed up as elves and helped deliver gifs to the homes.
They had a very entitled life in California, and wanted for nothing,” said Kidder. “After we took them to these homes, they saw how little other people have and (how they) struggle.” One of David’s sons said he hadn’t realized how good he had it. He admitted he didn’t need any Christmas gift.
Kidder gave her step kids many opportunities to serve. Besides taking them to homes on the Santa round, she had them ring the bell for the Salvation Army.
The Santa Project was an eye opener for Kidder’s step kids and for her as well.
Kidder, who originally is from Auckland, New Zealand, didn’t grow up with Santa Claus. “I was lucky if there was a card board Santa pinned to the wall.” Her alcoholic parents were constantly fighting. “Christmas was not a pleasant time for me. I avoided it for many years. My childhood dream was for family services to take me away.”
But there was kindness, somewhere in the world, she discovered.
When she was of middle school age, the Lions Club chose Judi and another “underprivileged kid” to go to camp, with all expenses paid. They bought her a new sleeping bag and clothes. “That was something I hadn’t experienced,” Kidder said. She was also given spending money. “The feeling of somebody reaching out a hand in the darkness and getting a week out of “hell” was just amazing. I just wanted to pass that (kindness) on,” she said.
And she has. The Santa Project has “given me back the Christmas spirit, “Kidder said. (And, she might add, the Christmases she was deprived of. “I have everything that I need. More than I need, and I can pay it forward.
“I enjoy Christmas now,” Kidder said. “Kodiak is the most incredible place for community support.”