Santa delivers in form of a smile
Dear Santa Claus:
All I really want this year is some braces because everybody makes fun of me.
And I truly do not want anything better than braces. Even the boy I like makes fun of me. Santa, please help me. I will be so grateful of what you may do for me. But my mom has a job and it doesn’t pay her good enough to pay for my braces.
PS: Thank you Santa. Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
This letter was addressed to Santa Claus and made its way to the post office at Zephyr Cove two weeks ago.
It’s not uncommon for the postal service to receive Dear Santa letters this time of year. Nationwide, the postal service says it annually gets about 100,000 of them. Zephyr Cove postal clerk Sam Lobato sees about 10 come through his office every December. So far this year, he’s seen two.
The letters usually wind up in what postal officials call the “dead letter office.” It is a place where letters go that can’t be sent.
You see, no one really knows the actual street address of Santa Claus.
It was on Dec. 13 that Zephyr Cove resident Shari Zygadlo spent her morning watching “Live with Regis and Kelly” before going to work as a bartender at Sam’s Place in the Roundhill Shopping Center.
On this particular morning, co-host Kelly Ripa suggested that if anyone was looking for a child to give a gift to, they should request to see letters sent to Santa at their local post office.
Not having much money herself but wanting to do something different in terms of giving for the holidays, Zygadlo thought about it some and while she was at the post office that afternoon, she inquired about letters to Santa.
In Zephyr Cove, everyone knows their postal clerk. She knew Lobato by his first name. She asked if there were any letters, and sam brought out two, one from a boy who asked Santa for an X-Box and the other from Sarah.
* * *
When a child reaches a certain age, especially around puberty, their world and the emotion that comes with it, becomes magnified.
Children can be sweet but they can also be cruel. Especially in a community like Zephyr Cove where there are two very apparent economic extremes: Families are either well off or they’re not. In fact, Zephyr Cove and Stateline topped the U.S. Census list in 2000 as being the most transient towns in America.
Thirteen-year-old Sarah Scott and her mother Gail live together in a Market Street affordable housing project. Gail works part time jobs to keep food on the table and her growing daughter in clothes. Some government assistance helps keep a roof over their heads. They have no car. There’s not room for much else. Especially when it comes to health.
A seventh-grader at Kingsbury Middle School, Sarah is shy and doesn’t speak much. She has piercing brown eyes, high cheek bones and a careful, self-conscious smile in which she pierces her lips together as to not expose her crooked, irregularly spaced teeth.
She loves spending time listening to music on the radio and talking about boys were her friends – those things teenagers girls her age have in common.
Her mom says she’s one to speak openly about stuff at home, but when she’s at school, she sometimes feels as though when she opens her mouth or cracks a smile, her peers glare directly at her mouth.
* * *
Shari Zygadlo left the post office on Dec. 13 perplexed. She knew she couldn’t afford an X-Box requested by a boy who asked Santa Claus for one in a letter. And she knew there was no way she could afford to pay for a little girl’s braces on a bartender’s tips.
“There was something about that letter. I read it, and it left me very sad. I remember being her age. It was a really tough time,” Zygadlo said.
She returned to the post office that afternoon. Zygadlo asked postal clerk Sam Lobato for five copies of Sarah’s letter.
She had a plan.
* * *
On Monday this week, she distributed the letters to five South Shore dentists. Four of them responded. But it was Dr. Scott Forvilly of Zephyr Cove Dental Center who called first.
“I get a lot of requests for free dentistry and I do some pro bono work but this letter really caught my attention,” Forvilly said. “It broke my heart.”
An assistant of Forvilly telephoned Michael Riley, a Stateline property manager to inquire about Sarah and where she might live. Riley confirmed with the assistant that Sarah and her mother live in the affordable housing project that he manages. Riley contacted the mother and daughter personally because they have no phone. He drove them Tuesday to Forvilly’s office for a consultation.
Zygadlo heard the news from Sam Lobato, the postal clerk that day when she went in to pick up her mail.
“He said, ‘Shari, we have a bite,'” Zygadlo said. “I started crying.”
* * *
On Wednesday, Forvilly gave Sarah two fillings. On Thursday, he gave her a cleaning. The big work, however, will be shared with friend and colleague Dr. Vincent D’Ascoli, a Gardnerville orthodontist.
Forvilly called D’Ascoli and told him he had a patient that needed the work done but couldn’t afford it.
“I told him, ‘let me send you something before you make a decision,'” Forvilly said. He faxed him Sarah’s letter. D’Ascoli immediately called him back and said “absolutely.”
In all, Sarah’s mouth will require at least $10,000 worth of work. She will need braces. D’Ascoli has committed to covering the cost and the adjustments required every six weeks. She will need to wear them between one and two years. Forvilly has agreed to do all cleanings in between, plus laser bleaching, and porcelain veneer on a couple of broken front teeth. He has committed to being Sarah’s dentist, offering her assistance free of charge through her senior year of high school.
Others too have offered to help. Sarah has received clothes from employees at the dental office and the Hair and Nails Studio on Kingsbury Grade have agreed to give her hairstyle and makeover.
As Sarah prepared for a cleaning on Thursday, the woman who got the ball rolling, Shari Zygadlo, stopped by the dentist office to finally meet the girl face-to-face.
Sarah beamed, and along with a thank-you gave Zygadlo a wide smile instead of her timid closed-lipped grin, exposing her crooked little teeth.
“Like the television show ‘The Swan’ we are going to change this beautiful little girl,” Zygadlo said. “She is absolutely gorgeous now but when she’s done, and she can be able to smile confidently, she will be a model.”
Scott Forvilly is seeking transportation for Sarah to and from the orthodontist in Gardnerville, where she will need adjustments to her braces every six weeks. If you’d like to help, call Forvilly at (775) 588-5183.