Substitute Santas show the spirit of the holidays

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By Tim McNicholas

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Updated: Mon, 23 Dec 2013 12:20:18 CST

Natalee Stieb has spent almost half of the last year in the hospital, fighting the failure of her only kidney.

But lately she's had a lot to smile about.

Natalee's family is part of United Way's Substitute Santa program.

Groups from around the community volunteer to donate gifts to families down on their luck.

From illness to poverty—teams are assigned wish lists to meet their family's needs.

Natalee only has one thing on her Christmas list.

"That all of the people that I met in children's hospital go home on Christmas day so they can spend time with their families,” she said. “And so Santa can find them better."

The Stiebs didn't sign up for this.

Natalee's father doesn't want to bother anyone by asking for help.

His coworkers are the ones who reached out to United Way.

The Stiebs will not only have toys around the tree this year, but some much needed assistance with their bills.

"I feel my daughters—both of them—have dealt with enough,” Natalee’s father Kris Stieb said. “Because what has affected one has affected the other one."

In other words, they've both been through a great deal of hardship since June.

That's when 7–year–old Natalee made a trip to the hospital that lasted all summer.

She spent just 4 weeks back home before she started another lengthy stay.

"Getting to work and things like that have been hard to do,” her mother Mandy Stieb said.

“Because everything's been kind of uprooted,” Kris Stieb added.

But neighbors, friends, local businesses...

The Stiebs have found themselves surrounded by gratitude.

United Way's Substitute Santa program has almost 70 donors.

It was created in 2004.

Employees saw the demand to expand on their Toys for Tots campaign.

Northwest's High School's Girl's basketball team is donating the Stiebs' gifts.

Some of the Substitute Santas have been donating since the very beginning.

"You know every kid deserves a Christmas,” Jean Himik of U Save Pharmacy said. “We'd love to just see the emotions that these families feel when they get this."

Doctors say not much more can be done surgically to help their daughter.

With United Way's help, there's plenty that can be done for her spirits.

"I'm really looking forward to my kids smiling on Christmas morning and not being disappointed that Santa didn't make it to their house this year,” Mandy Stieb said.

But if he listens to Natalee, Santa might be stopping at her friends' houses first.

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