Last year, when Anthony Marrapese of Reel to Real in Cranston learned of a local family who would be unable to provide Christmas gifts for their children, he decided to see if he could help out, and called on his Facebook friends for reinforcement.
"When I put it out there on Facebook, I got such a pile of gifts; that 3-year-old had such a great Christmas," Marrapese said. "This year I decided to make it a tradition."
The family Marrapese adopted this year had two teenagers, a boy and a girl who were twins, as well as a mother and a grandmother, all in need of a great Christmas.
Marrapese put his annual appeal out to his friends on Facebook, creating a special page entitled "Just Imagine."
"Just imagine your child waking up on Christmas morning to an empty tree ... hard to imagine, huh? Now just imagine that same child waking up to a bunch of presents under the tree. That's what this group is about," Marrapese wrote. "Many families are struggling and every dollar they have goes to bills, heat and food. No money to buy presents with. The people that join this group are here to help out, buy a gift and make a kid happy. Join us and get the real feeling of Christmas this year.”
Once Marrapese's appeal was posted, he had responses right away from people willing to be "Santa's helpers" this year.
From there, he posted a wish list, having chosen what he was going to buy first, and asking his helpers to let him know which gifts they'd be giving, so as to avoid duplicates.
Within a couple of days' time, the list had shrunk considerably, with just a few gifts remaining. The helpers began dropping their wrapped gifts off at Reel to Real, with labels reading "Mom" or "Girl" or "Boy" to distinguish gifts.
"This is not all me, this is all the people on Facebook who make this possible," Marrapese said. "This year, it's as if they were waiting for it, after last year."
Marrapese even found a computer technician to help with the family's computers, since new computers were out of the question this year, but some updates would help out tremendously.
Even though his ultimate goal is to help others, Marrapese said he likes the feeling he gets by doing a good thing for others each Christmas, too.
"With all of the negative stuff out there about Christmas, it's nice to be involved with stuff that's positive. We really do have a good group of people here," he said. "My kids are older now, so this is the fun part for me."
He noted that even during tough economic times, people are somehow able to come through for others.
"Twenty-five dollars is not easy to come by for anyone these days, and yet people are really very generous," he said.
Marrapese is thankful for such wonderful Facebook friends who have made Just Imagine successful for two years in a row now.
"This is what Christmas is all about," he said.