All photos by Jeremy Wirth / Wirth Photography  
Apprentice wireman Chris Scott of Santa Barbara, Calif., Local 413, and son, Declan, stretch out a receipt for a sleigh’s worth of toys purchased with IBEW members’ donations to the Salvation Army Angel Tree program.  

With visions of presents under every child’s tree, one of Santa’s busiest elves and the big-hearted electricians at his day job are helping spread Christmas magic across California’s Santa Barbara County.

Working with a Best Buy employee and apprentice Chris Scott, Local 413 Training Director Gilbert Rea, front, helps load gifts for delivery to the Salvation Army.

Chris Scott has made a habit of giving back at the holidays, but this year the fifth-year apprentice inside wireman was determined to do more. Pitching his idea to IBEW brothers and sisters at Santa Barbara, Calif., Local 413, they eagerly climbed on board.

You can measure their success by the length of a flatbed truck that looked as if it had just arrived from the North Pole.

“It struck a nerve that there are kids out there who don’t get to open presents on Christmas Day,” Scott said, thinking of his own happy toddler and the little-boy treasures he’ll find under the tree.

“Working in these great trades, we’ve got a little bit of money. We wanted as many kids as possible to experience the same kind of joy as our son.”

Inspired by the Salvation’s Army Angel Tree and the families he and his wife adopted in past years, Scott decided to approach fellow apprentices. In October, he asked instructors for a few minutes of class time to talk about the charity.

In less than 48 hours, apprentices had donated $1,200. Journeymen joined in when the local sent an email blast and Mike Breyman, Scott’s boss at Imperial Electric, wrote a check for $2,500. Then Santa Barbara’s Labor-Management Cooperation Committee, funded by the local and NECA, offered to match donations dollar for dollar.

Scott set out hoping to raise $3,000. He nearly tripled that, collecting $8,154.

Local 413 Training Director Gilbert Rea embraced Scott’s idea, confident that members would give generously. But, he said, “I never thought it would take off like it did.”

When Scott reported the total at a general membership meeting, “Everyone was applauding. They could tell how much of an impact they made. It definitely brought everyone together.”

Windfall in hand, Scott’s next order of business was surprising the Salvation Army, whose staff didn’t know about the fundraising drive, let alone its bounty. “I called them up out of the blue. They were floored,” he said.

That’s when his work really began. Rather than hand over a check and let the Salvation Army take it from there, he enlisted the local Best Buy store to help him with a Black Friday shopping spree.

But first he had to make a list. He took home a pile of Salvation Army paperwork and began sorting through 240 children’s wishes.

He filled his garage with bicycles and scooters from Target. He was able to purchase almost everything else – Legos, Hot Wheels, dolls, trucks, footballs, building toys, tool sets and more --through his local Best Buy, where he once worked.

With a TV news camera rolling, Local 413 apprentice Chris Scott talks about the spirit of giving as he holds his son, Declan.

The store manager promised rock-bottom prices to stretch the donations as far as possible. In the wee hours Black Friday, employees began ringing up items from Scott’s list and ordering online, taking pains to get the best deal every time.

Best Buy stored the mountain of gifts in its warehouse and made a box truck available for deliveries, in addition to the flatbed that Imperial Electric let Scott borrow.

With local media on hand Dec. 6, Scott and helpers loaded the flatbed for its trip to the Salvation Army, where low-income parents would later choose gifts for their children.

Lt. Juan Torres of the Salvation Army’s Santa Maria branch was filled of gratitude. “This wouldn’t be possible without all the donations he collected,” Torres said of Scott in a TV news interview. “He did an amazing, amazing job.”

His union thinks so, too. “We’re all really proud of Chris -- we’re always proud of him,” Local 413 Business Manager Chuck Huddleston said. “Chris is smart and caring and always quick to step forward to help with any volunteer effort, as a volunteer and a leader. Anything you ask him to do, he does. We’re excited about his future.”

Raising his son to be just as caring, Scott brought him along on delivery day. For weeks, 2 ½-year-old Declan had maneuvered around a sprawl of toys in his home, purchases that weren’t part of the Best Buy cache.

“He kept wanting to play with them, but we said, ‘You’re going to help give them to other kids,’” Scott said. “He understands that. He sorts through his own toys when we ask him to choose things to donate. He knows how good it feels to give.”