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Bend Santa, Mrs. Claus continue holiday event amid health battles

The Giving Plate founders celebrate 10th annual "Jingle" event despite battle with cancer, future surgeries

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) –  A Bend couple has dedicated almost a decade to giving out toys and playing Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus for hundreds of children. On Thursday, they told NewsChannel 21 Santa and Mrs. Claus may be feeling a little different this year, but they're soldiering on, for the kids.

Debra Kelso and her husband, Gary, are the founders of The Giving Plate in Bend. The Giving Plate is the only food bank in Oregon with a youth-specific food bank, called Kid’s Korner. Every year, before Christmas, the Kelsos also host an annual celebration called the “Jingle” event. 

This year, as the “Jingle” celebration nears its 10th year,  the Kelsos shared that the Clauses almost hung up their red hats. It was seeing the joy on children’s faces that kept them going.

Gary Kelso says his favorite thing about playing Santa is listening to hundreds of children sharing their wishes and seeing the smiles on their faces. He says not all children ask for toys.

"I remember this little girl on my lap, she just broke me down,” Gary says. “I mean, she broke me down. She said, ‘I would like to see my daddy,’ and that one just tore me up.”

It’s experiences like these that keep the Kelsos excited to host the “Jingle” event every year, despite their personal health battles. Gary says he has battled bladder cancer for a year and a half. He underwent chemotherapy three times. 

Debra Kelso says a car accident years ago left her with metal hardware in various parts of her body, including her neck and back. Now, as the husband and wife are considering more surgeries, they say they almost considered canceling this year’s “Jingle” event.

“The difference it has made the last few years for all the kids,” Gary says. “How can you say no?”

This year, the Kelsos have a special request from the community to help them continue their holiday tradition -- a Victorian-inspired loveseat for the Clauses.

And just after the story first aired, the couple said Kim Chassi, owner of Curated Events LLC, donated a beautiful loveseat for their event.

For more information about The Giving Plate, visit their website at

Article Topic Follows: Bend
cancer battle
the giving plate

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Rhea Panela

Rhea Panela is a multimedia journalist for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Rhea here.


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