A Firm Believer in Santa Claus

Andrew Boersma, 11, greets Santa Claus with his sisters, Olivia, 3, and Brianna, 5. At right are Heather Varone, in the role of Mrs. Claus, and Megan Melott, Santa's helper, who once was on the receiving end.
Andrew Boersma, 11, greets Santa Claus with his sisters, Olivia, 3, and Brianna, 5. At right are Heather Varone, in the role of Mrs. Claus, and Megan Melott, Santa's helper, who once was on the receiving end. (Courtesy Of Trudi Sipes)

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By Christy Goodman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 21, 2006

Last week marked the sixth year that Megan Melott, along with the Dale City Volunteer Fire Department, helped Santa give presents to sick and physically disabled children in Dale City and Woodbridge.

They arrived on a fire engine, complete with screaming sirens and flashing lights.

Not so long ago, Melott was on the receiving end. The teenager is a bone cancer survivor.

"She is our joy," said Trudi Sipes, the department's Santa Visit coordinator.

Sipes recalled the first Christmas that Santa tried to visit Melott, the year of her diagnosis, at age 6.

"We could not see her. She was so sick from chemo," Sipes said. But Santa left presents at Melott's house anyway.

"A 12-hour pass is all we got that Christmas" to come home from the hospital and exchange gifts, said Melott's mother, Jane. "With their help, Megan had a Christmas that year."

Melott was visited for several years during her recovery and in 2000 hosted three families from her doctor's office so they, too, could see Santa.

By 2001, Melott's surgeries weren't as frequent. Her therapies and treatments were over. She decided to volunteer.

"It was not that I was too old for Santa, but it was, I mean, it was better for him to go to somebody else that needed him more, that needed their spirits brightened," she said.

For the past few years, she and her Girl Scout troop, No. 1514, have had the presents wrapped and waiting for Santa. Melott and her mother have breakfast ready for Santa and his volunteers before they hit the road. The girls also have lunch prepared when the volunteers take a break.

Melott is more than Santa's helper, though. She is Hylton High School's crew team coxswain. She is a member of the student council and the French Honor Society and helps organize the local Relay for Life, which raises funds for cancer research.

"Because of what she went through, she is totally committed to giving back to the community," said Jane Melott.

Megan also finds time to tutor classmates and work with children who are newly diagnosed with cancer. "Now that I'm older, it means a lot to me to make as big a difference in some families' lives as they made in mine," Melott said.

In a few years, she plans to study science and law.

"My goal is to find a cure and make sure that everybody who needs it has it."


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