It’s already on the calendar.

Saint Nicholas is poised to drop by area schools Friday, Dec. 5, and distribute a bright backpack full of gifts to each student. He’s chosen the schools at which 95 percent of the children come from families poor enough to qualify for free lunches, just to make sure they get a Christmas.

Over 12 years, he’s delivered 40,000 such backpacks, some to schools in the Northwest. So this should be easy.

Only this year, there’s a problem.

Due to the economic downturn, Saint Nicholas’ helper — in this case, the Volunteer Center of Southern Arizona — says it may not come up with enough money to buy all 3,600 backpacks that are required.

Children may not acquire sparkly eyes on the morning of Dec. 5 when they step into their classrooms. They may not find toys, books and toothbrushes in new backpacks on their desks.

For this reason, the volunteer center is asking for help. The cost to sponsor a child is $25. A classroom sponsorship is $750. A grade sponsorship is $1,250. Those who really want to help Saint Nick can sponsor a school for $5,000.

Donations, which are tax-deductible, should be sent to the volunteer center at 924 N. Alvernon Way, Tucson, AZ, 85711. For more information, call 881-3300 or visit http://www.volunteersoaz.org">www.volunteersoaz.org.

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