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14th Annual Dinner with Soul Santa a time for holiday cheer, building community


There are a ton of great events going on during this holiday season in Madison. For Jackie Hunt, the founder of F.O.S.T.E.R, her annual Dinner With Soul Santa, now in its 14th year, has become a community favorite. Not only does it introduces young people to a “Soul Santa” and provides a culturally-rich holiday party, the free community event also brings families together for food, fun and fellowship.

“What I love most about Dinner With Soul Santa is watching young parents engaging in the arts and crafts activities with their children. That part just really warms my heart,” Hunt tells Madison365. “So many times, parents don’t pause or can’t really pause to do things like that with their children, so this is a night where they don’t have to worry about food. You know, they can just come and be themselves and have some fun with the family, do some activities and receive some gifts from Soul Santa.”

Family pictures with Soul Santa

Every year, Hunt’s FOSTER (Families Overcoming Struggles To Encourage Restoration) organization, whose mission is to support low-income families of color to get to a place of self-sufficiency through mental health awareness, education, training, and stable affordable housing, hosts the event with Nehemiah Center for Urban Leadership  

This year’s event will be held Friday, Dec. 17, at 5:30 p.m. at Highland Manor Park Shelter, 10 Manor Drive in Madison. 

For many years, the event was held at Fountain of Life Church on Madison’s south side before moving to Lighthouse Christian School a few years back. The event went virtual in 2020 during the pandemic and was held at Highland Manor last year.

Arlington and Andreal Davis will be playing Santa and Mrs. Claus. Hunt’s son, rapper Romey who has performed recently at Milwaukee Bucks games and Summerfest, is back to play Soul Santa.

“We’re going to have Soul Santa and we’re going to do family holiday pajama photos, as well as all the other activities that people have come to the event to experience,” Hunt says.

Families make gingerbread houses and sing songs at the annual Dinner with Soul Santa.

“Every year around this time I get excited about this family-friendly event.  So come on out and be prepared to make gingerbread houses and candy sleighs and participate in the other activities that we will have going on that day for families. There’s no cost to attend the event.”

It’s a yearly tradition that continues to grow under Hunt’s organization, as is the Holiday Soul Gift Giveaway at Fountain of Life Church on Saturday, Dec. 17, noon-3 p.m. 

Families make gingerbread houses at a previous annual Dinner With Soul Santa event.

Five or six years back, Hunt took over the Shoebox Gifts for Children at Christmas through W.I.N.R.S. (Women Individually Nurturing & Reaching Souls) Ministry from Lucille Badger and her husband. W.I.N.R.S. is a local non-profit that serves women impacted by substance abuse issues, mental health issues, or who were involved in the criminal justice system.

“The Shoebox Ministry will be in full effect, our partnership with Light 102.5 FM and W.I.N.R.S. Ministry, something that Lucille Badger started 20 years ago and I have been continuing her legacy to bring a little Christmas cheer to households where that might not otherwise be,” Hunt says.

Hunt says the gifts are already coming in for that and that she really appreciates it.

“On Saturday, we will have our community holiday gift distribution. So if you’re an organization and you would like to sign up your group or organization to receive a Shoebox gift, you can reach out to me to do that or complete a request,” Hunt says. “The community will be allowed to just come to pull up on Saturday, Dec. 17 at 11 and that can receive a shoebox gift.”