When Leticia Flores-Gonzalez of Liberal, Kansas, had her 4-year-old twin daughters, Luna and Gianella Gonzalez tie their Christmas lists to balloons that they set free, she never imagined that their letters would be answered — by a real-life Santa Claus over 600 miles away!
When Alvin Bamburg was out hunting in December just a few days before Christmas 2020 near his home in Shreveport, Louisiana, he spotted a balloon in a tree.
"I was checking on my deer stand and spotted something red in a tree that had fallen," Bamburg told TODAY Parents. "Something told me to go check it out and at the very least throw away what appeared to be litter. When I got close and saw it was a balloon, I was in shock, especially when I saw the Christmas list to Santa."
On the drive home, Bamburg said he made the decision to do something with the list but he wasn't sure what. He showed the letter to his wife, Lee Ann, who suggested they post about it on Facebook.
"All I knew was that it was from a 4 year-old named Luna from Liberal, Kansas," he said.
Within 24 hours, Flores-Gonzalez and her daughters were located.
"Through many shares, a friend of a friend, Brenda Hill, shared it to a community group in Liberal. A friend of the twins’ mom blew up her phone asking if she had seen the post," he added.
A couple of days later, Bamburg heard from a very surprised Flores-Gonzalez, who told him that her daughters released the balloons to brighten their spirits during the pandemic — and that she never expected them to be found.
Bamburg only discovered Luna's balloon, but the outpouring from strangers wanting to fulfill her Christmas list and her twin sister's was overwhelming.
"We updated the Facebook post and immediately had a ton of family, friends and coworkers wanting to donate gifts for us to send," said Bamburg. "Our first shipment had four large boxes, and we were able to send one more box as people continued to donate."
After a series of texts, calls and FaceTimes, the Bamburgs and Gonzalezes decided to meet in person.
"They were already like family," Bamburg recalled. "It doesn’t always make sense when you have a connection with people you certainly would have never met otherwise, but it happened. I feel like Leticia is the little sister I never had."
Earlier this month, the Bamburgs traveled to Del City, Oklahoma, a halfway point between the two families, and brought a special surprise to complete the twins' Christmas lists: a dachshund puppy the girls eventually named Max.
"It was cold and windy that day, so I put Max under a coat to keep him warm," Bamburg said.
With cameras from a local news station rolling, the girls bashfully greeted their real-life Santa.
"I squatted down and put Max down, and that was it," Bamburg said. "Getting to meet the family and their extended family in Oklahoma City was quite the experience. They cooked authentic Mexican food for us and actually gave us gifts. We all felt like we had known each other forever and definitely plan to get together again."
Bamburg said he's been overwhelmed by the positive response to the story, and that he never thought it would receive any attention.
"I've gotten thousands of positive, uplifting messages," he said. "One lady said, 'My heart was frozen and after I read about this I felt like I had a heart again.'"
"Any act, no matter how large or small, can bring happiness," he added.
This story was originally published in April 2021.