Author Tom Roberts (left) and illustrator Hector Curriel (right) pose with their new book, “Something About Christmas,” to raise funds for the Children’s Home Society. (Photo: Tammy Roberts)
It was nearly 25 years ago that the Children’s Home Society captured Tom Roberts’ heart.
He posed as Santa Claus for the nonprofit’s Christmas party as children sat on his lap, trusting him with their wishes, prayers and secrets.
“It was when one little boy sat on my lap and shared how he prayed to Jesus and Santa while hiding in his closet, listening to his parents argue,” he recalled. “I didn’t know how to respond.”
That moment and stories he heard from those children had a profound impact on him, spurring the now 63-year-old to eventually become an event coordinator at CHS, which helps protect and support children and families who are victims of violence, abuse or neglect.
But one of his greatest loves is Christmas — the joy and unity it brings — and he found a way to marry his holiday spirit and passion for CHS: by writing Christmas stories.
“Ever since that little boy, I’ve felt compelled to want to help,” Roberts said, “and that’s my way to do that, using my gifts, creativity and things I love to do to be able to help them.”
It started years ago when he was stuck in his car during a blizzard on his way to his eastern Sioux Falls home. To keep him busy, his wife encouraged him to write a Christmas story for their church’s children’s program. He took a pen and scribbled down what would become his first book.
This year, he is selling his eighth book, “Something About Christmas,” to benefit the Children’s Home Society. All proceeds go toward CHS. The books are suitable for children of all ages, he said.
Several events were canceled due to COVID-19, which impacts donations and awareness, Roberts said. More than 10% of the nonprofit’s annual budget depends on charitable giving.
“People can’t come on campus to volunteer because of COVID-19, but there are other ways you can help — by donating, going online and purchasing a book or simply keeping kids and their families in your prayers,” Roberts said.
This year’s book is based on Roberts’ childhood. Growing up just south of Ipswich, he remembered how excited he’d be when Christmas music started playing on the radio and decorations would pop up around town. They were signs that his favorite holiday was near.
“But then, I remember it’s the day after and the day after that. Time moves on, things feel different, Christmas music disappears and parents put away decorations,” Roberts said. “It’s a sad time for a kid, and the house starts to feel empty. I remember thinking, ‘I wish there was something of Christmas that I can keep with me all year round.'”
As an adult and a Christian, he knows there is.
“There’s something about Christmas we can hold in our hearts and can recognize and appreciate every day,” he said.
The book was illustrated by Hector Curriel, a Sioux Falls artist and a South Dakota Arts Council artist in residence. Curriel used a Norman Rockwell style illustration, inspired by the 1960s time the story is set in.
Nearly all of Roberts’ books can be purchased through the Children’s Home Society, except his second book, “Santa’s Prayer.” The Barnes and Noble publisher purchased rights to the book a year ago and sells the book worldwide.
Over the past 18 years and with eight books produced, Roberts has sold more than 60,000 copies and raised more than $1.4 million for CHS. The project “took on a life of its own,” but he couldn’t be happier with the outcome.
“I believe in the kids here,” he said.
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