Santa brings joy -- and classic cars -- to Ronald McDonald House children

Golden Gate Street Machinists continue annual tradition

This year, Santa Claus left the reindeer at home and traded in his sleigh for a 1954 teal Chevy Belair.

On Dec. 11, Chuck Gaskin cruised up Sand Hill Road in his classic car to the Ronald McDonald House at Stanford and quickly darted inside to transform into Father Christmas.

"This is my second year as Santa Claus, but my 12th year organizing the Christmas event for the Ronald McDonald House," Gaskin said as his wife, Linda Gaskin, dressed as Mrs. Claus, tightened his black leather belt over a stomach stuffed with pillows and fastened a white curly beard on Gaskin's face.

Gaskin is a member of the Golden Gate Street Machines, a classic-car club based in San Bruno. He and other members travel to Palo Alto every year in a caravan of vintage vehicles to visit and provide gifts to the children and families staying at the Ronald McDonald House. The nonprofit provides lodging while children undergo treatment at Stanford Medical Center.

"We were looking for an organization that we could volunteer with about 12 years ago," Gaskin said. "We thought the Ronald McDonald House was a great organization and have stuck with it ever since."

When the Gaskins and the Golden Gate Street Machines club began volunteering, there were only eight children staying at Ronald McDonald House. This year the volunteers shopped for more than 70 children.

"We have a picnic in the summer and many fundraisers throughout the year to raise more than $3,000 to buy gifts," Gaskin said.

Before making a grand appearance in the main lobby of the house, Gaskin and his wife paid a visit to the immune wings to hand deliver gifts to children who couldn't leave their rooms.

"I asked one little girl in immunity what she wanted for Christmas, and she told me all she wanted was to go home early," Gaskin said. "It brought a tear to my eye.

"It's great for us as a group. We get to hear wonderful stories and see how the house is positively effecting children's everyday lives," he added.

Hendrix Diaz-Veale couldn't wait to see Santa Claus this year.

"When is Santa coming? When is Santa coming?" Hendrix shouted as he pretended to be a Transformer robot and ran around the Christmas tree.

Hendrix, 9, moved to the Ronald McDonald House from Stuttgart, Germany, in mid-October. He has Moyamoya syndrome and had his fourth brain surgery this month at Stanford Hospital. Hendrix said he misses winter at home, especially the skiing and snowball fights.

"This year, I'm asking Santa for the last Harry Potter game for Nintendo DS," Hendrix said. "And a wand. A real one."

His mother, Jennifer Veale, is happy the House can provide Christmas-related activities for everyone.

"Hendrix is so excited to see Santa," Veale said. "It will be his first time seeing Santa ever."

Hendrix was first in line as Gaskin walked through the home's front doors. The bells on Santa's wrists jingled as he waved. 'Merry Christmas!' he boomed to the crowd of children and their families. Some of the kids ran up to Santa and jumped on his lamp. Others, more reserved, only began to smile after Gaskin handed them their presents.

After the children finished telling Santa what they wanted for Christmas, Gaskin led everyone outside to the parking lot, where kids took turns sitting in more than half a dozen of the club's classic cars.

Alex Lee was the first out the door and hopped into a replica 1965 AC Cobra. Lee, 18, moved to the house in November from Fairbanks, Alaska, and has undergone five open-heart surgeries at Stanford. He is no stranger to Santa Claus.

"We live 20 minutes away from the North Pole," said Patrice Lee, Alex's mother. "This will be Alex's second time meeting Santa Claus. He was looking forward to it all week."

Patrice Lee said their family appreciates the effort that goes into planning holiday events at the house, especially at Christmas.

Bri Carpano-Seaone, the family-services director for the Ronald McDonald House, said Christmas is an especially difficult time of year for families with children in hospital.

"We try to make the holidays as stress-free as possible, and because the kids and families can't go home, we like to bring Christmas to them," she said. "We are so grateful that the Golden Gate Street Machinists have volunteered to do this each year."

Gaskin said the car-club members would continue to bring Santa and his classic cars to the house.

Many different members have played Santa over the years, but Gaskin hopes he can continue in the leading role.

"It brings all of us such great joy to see the children so happy at Christmas. If can put a smile on one child's face each year, it makes everything worth the effort," he said.

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