Lowell General Hospital’s holiday gift basket raffle to benefit Sun Santa broke the $110,000 barrier  Wednesday. Pictured, left to right, are Sun
Lowell General Hospital's holiday gift basket raffle to benefit Sun Santa broke the $110,000 barrier Wednesday. Pictured, left to right, are Sun Editor James Campanini, Publisher Mark O'Neil, Linda Gaetano, Sun Santa Coordinator Ed Madden, Debhinn Watts (elf), Norm Deschene and Santa Clause. SUN/ David H. Brow

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LOWELL -- Anticipation filled the Clark Auditorium at Lowell General Hospital Wednesday afternoon as hundreds gathered to hear the names called.

Inside, hospital workers and residents came to the Sun Santa's largest fundraising event for Lowell Sun charities where 42 baskets filled with thousands of dollars worth of prizes were raffled off. At the end of the event, an oversized check was revealed showing the raffle had raised more money than ever before - the total amount presented was $110,016. At 20 tickets for $5, and three for $1, the hospital collected more than $55,000 in sales, and the hospital agreed to match those donations.

Normand Deschene, CEO of Lowell General and CEO and president of Circle Health, said he was overwhelmed by the generosity. Various departments across the hospital worked to collect and donate money and then went out to purchase grand prizes for their baskets - ranging from spa treatments and sports games tickets to fine bottles of wine, airfare vouchers and an Xbox.

Last year the program raised $109,400 and the hospital set out this season to beat that, he said.

"The amount of support we get from those who buy tickets and people from the outside coming in to buy tickets, it's just overwhelming," he said. "It just says to me, you know, not only do we care for people everyday, but we care about our community."

All the money raised from the event goes to the Sun Santa group, which works with Community Teamwork, Inc., and the Salvation Army to find families in need from the Greater Lowell area. Depending on a family's size and other circumstances, the money from Sun Santa affords them a set number vouchers for groceries, clothing and toys to make a Christmas celebration possible.

Ed Madden, a former employee with The Sun who has devoted the last 12 years of his retirement to coordinating the charity's efforts, estimated last year the program helped approximately 3,500 to 3,700 children of about 1,700 families. This year, he said the charity is on track to collect approximately $250,000 from various groups and noted Lowell General continues to be the largest donor in the program.

"They start making a commitment to make the baskets probably in February and March," Madden said, noting all this money raised came in just the last few weeks, since the event started on Nov. 6.

"I get a lot of personal satisfaction in being able to know that we're benefiting the communities," he said.

Mark O'Neil, president and publisher of MediaOne New England, which owns the Sun of Lowell, said in recent years, the need for families has been rising. He was pleased with the outcome of this event.

"This partnership we have with Norm and all the employees here at the hospital is just over the top," O'Neil said. "We couldn't do it without Lowell General, the employees, the team here. The passion here is just amazing... and it's sad to say the need keeps growing. Fortunately, groups like this, they continue to help us achieve the funding we need for this."

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If you would like to donate to Sun Santa visit http://www.lowellsun.com/sunsanta to donate using Paypal.