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Retiring radio host helping bring Christmas joy to hundreds of eastern Idaho children

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POCATELLO — Every year, soon-to-be-retiring radio personality Kelly Martinez has put himself through a physical, mental and emotional marathon as he rallies donations for children in need.

For the past 22 years, Martinez has hosted 48-hour Secret Santa on KORR 104. In partnership with the Salvation Army, Martinez and KORR 104 collect donations of gifts and money for some 400 to 500 eastern Idaho children annually.

“The first one I did, it grabbed me by the heart,” Martinez told battling back tears. … “I had a little girl come in (to the radio station) and grab my leg, and thank me for a coat. How do you not become a fan?.”

During the event, Martinez remains on the air, save for a short dinner and nap break, “until the cows come home or we have all the kids taken care of.”

The event begins with a list of anywhere between 100 and 200 names, complete with ages and wish lists — including things like art supplies, bed sets, specific toys or winter coats. But cash donations are also collected, going to the purchase of gifts for another 300 or so children.

Donations are happily accepted in any increment.

“Anything we raise is a win,” Martinez said. “The more smiles we have on Christmas morning with these kids, that’s a victory.”

KORR 1044 Secret Santa receives a donation from Sage Dental
Kelly Martinez receives a $1,000 donation from Sage Dental. | Kalama Hines,

A key to the success of the event is persistence.

This year, Martinez went on the air Thursday morning promoting his list and incurring donations. And, like the last 21 years, he will stay on until near midnight. Then, following a short break for dinner and a nap, return around 3 a.m. for Friday’s stretch run.

“It’s a challenge every year, but man, I look forward to it,” he said. “Losing a little sleep, that’s nothing compared to what we’re giving.”

But the people who assist his Secret Santa work see the toll it takes. His in-booth assistant for the event is his daughter, Felicia Rodriguez. And his wife, Teressa Rodriguez, is another of his elves.

According to Felicia, the visible fatigue is worth it for him, but also for the whole of southeast Idaho.

“By tomorrow evening, he will be exhausted, completely spent,” she said. “But the joy in his eyes — he literally is Santa and he makes this happen for so many people. … it’s totally worth it.”

“It fills me with so much pride,” Teressa added. “I’m so grateful that I’ve got him in my life, and that he cares about people in the community like he does.”

Felicia, Kelly and Teressa
(From the left) Felicia Rodriguez, Kelly Martinez and Teressa Rodriguez. | Kalama Hines,

Because of the time it takes for Salvation Army to collect and distribute the gifts, all donations must be received at KORR 104 by Wednesday.

Anyone interested in either adopting a child or donating money can do so by calling the radio station at (208)235-1041. Check donations — made payable to Salvation Army — must include “Secret Santa” in the memo line, and can be dropped off at the station, at 544 North Arthur Avenue, in Pocatello. Venmo and Facebook Pay donations can also be made through the station’s Facebook page.

With COVID-19 affecting families throughout the region, this year’s list is a bit longer, Martinez said. And he is hopeful this year’s event is the biggest Secret Santa yet, as he will leave KORR 104 later this month.

But as his time with the station winds down, neither Martinez nor his family expects this to be the end of his Christmas giving.

“I’m retiring from the radio station, but I’ll never retire from secret Santa,” he said. “Somehow, in some way in some facet, I’m going to be able to keep this tradition going.

“I take a lot of pride in this. This is, kinda, my baby and I want to keep it going.”