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Photo Report: Through the Eyes of Santa Claus


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During the week I wear a suit and tie (well, a tie, anyway). But two days a year I wear a suit and beard. Red suit, that is. As in Santa Claus. I've been my hometown chamber of commerce's official Santa since 2001 for the town's annual Breakfast With Santa and Christmas parade.

 

Since 2005, I've also been the official Santa for my local Jaycees chapter's annual Children's Christmas Shopping Tour, during which we take some 200 underprivileged children Christmas shopping at Wal-Mart on our dime, complete with snacks, kids' movies, etc. It's a real community event, complete with volunteers from nearby high schools, local colleges and Wal-Mart itself.

 

This year the chamber canceled the breakfast, but both other events were still on--and on the same day! From 4 a.m. (the requisite time to squeeze into the suit for the 4:45 a.m. shopping tour--held early so as to disturb as few Wal-Mart shoppers as possible) to helping my dad (who's chaired the parade the past two years) pick up parade markers at 10 p.m., it was a full day to say the least!

 

I thought it might be fun to share what Santa does in a day (or at least on my day).

 

One sentence of clarification before the good stuff: For obvious reasons, I made sure to crop out any faces of underprivileged children who may have appeared in the shopping tour photos or delete those pictures altogether (which is why there are no photos of them with Santa). But rest assured, when you're there in person and see the faces of those 200 kids and dozens of community volunteers who turn out before dawn to make sure those children and their families get a Christmas each year, it really is an amazing experience!

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The judges' stand in front of City Hall was elaborately themed. Inmates painted the maritime scene in the background, while a local paint shop designed and donated the 2-D flats in the foreground.

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The bi-plane also included interior detailing the parade viewers would never see, including this cockpit. In addition, they designed the wings to fold back onto the roof of the plane for easy storage in case the local chamber of commerce wants to use this for additional parades in the future.

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More detailing. The inmates designed and built four of the floats used in the parade this year, including one for the local Girl Scouts chapter and one for a nearby Christian school. Sadly, I didn't get photos of either of those two.

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Back to this year's float, here's some of the detailing. The inmates really do an amazing job. My dad, who works at the prison (as does half or more of the town), actually founded the parade float program as a rehabilitation option in 2000. It's the only one of its kind in the nation that I'm aware of.

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The big green thing on the back is a crab dressed as an elf, as seen in this picture. Since my hometown is known as the "Crab Capital of the World" (yeah, we didn't make jokes about that in high school or anything), it makes sense. Even the local beauty queen is named Miss Crustacean! The kiddie pageant winners are similarly dubbed Little Miss and Mr. Crustacean.

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By comparison, last year's float was a motorboat (which made sense since this is a maritime community). That's me in the front!

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Three hours later I was in my hometown, checking out my ride for that night's parade. It's a different float each year, made by inmates at the local state prison. This year we had a bi-plane theme (obviously). The chimney on the front hid the generator that powered the lights, and the propellor actually spun!

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We stayed so long that we actually hit the change-over from breakfast to lunch. Travis went back and got lunch from the buffet, too... just because he could!

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...while the rest of us went down the street to the Golden Corral buffet.

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Wal-Mart manager (and fellow Jaycee) Kevin enjoyed a bowl of cheese balls for breakfast...

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Snack time! Nothing says 6 a.m. dining like cheese balls and Sunny Delight.

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And this would be the wrapping area. Each child has the option of having two gifts wrapped (many buy presents for their families as well as themselves). Wal-Mart donates all the wrapping paper, and employees volunteer as wrappers. The biggest hazard in this area is getting run over by the kids who are so eager to try out their new bikes, they try to ride them to the wrapping stations!

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These would be those buses. Trucks from a local appliance store follow behind on the return trip to deliver the kids' purchases.

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For anyone who's never seen the inside of a Wal-Mart employee break room, now's your chance! On shopping tour morning, it's transformed into the kids' party room, complete with snacks, movies and Christmas cards to color. Chaperones Kristin and Matt prepare to board the buses that will take the kids back to their parents.

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But the best part of all: Little Miss and Mr. Crustacean voted me the best entry in the parade, so I got this cool trophy (with a crab medallion on top, naturally)! I had already left by the time the announced they winners (three and a half hours sitting in an open-air float in 40-degree weather is enough--not to mention the santa pants don't have a zipper...), so they convinced the kids my mom, overseeing the judges' stand, was Santa's wife and presented it to her in my honor. I think she was a little offended that the kids thought she looked old enough to pass for Mrs. Claus!

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My chariot arrives on the parade route! I even had a costumed Rudolph as my pilot. Between the two of us and our driver, we threw $115 worth of candy and small toys to kids along the street. Money well spent.

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And this section brought up the rear.

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This section blew Disneyland-style "snow" over the crowd on both sides.

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The highlight of any parade in this region is the float sponsored by the prison itself. The inmates worked a combined 1,100 hours on this year's three-part entry, representing the movie "Happy Feet." (Also a cheat since it's from another daytime parade--but at least it was a parade from this year!)

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This one's kind of a cheat since the picture is from a different parade (from last year, as the gas prices on the sign in the background attest), but he was in the parade, and it's kind of a neat addition--the Lone Ranger.

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Re-enactors played Lord Calvert and Lady Somerset.

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The Jaycees were here, too! Instead of throwing candy like everyone else, though, they gave out free glow necklaces.

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Bravo! There is so much good and community spirit all around. What a great thing to see.

 

Terriffic idea for inmate rehab, and great use of their talent and energy. That has to make their time a bit brighter too.

 

That's just a wonderful set of positive community programs. You and your town have much to be proud of for your humanity and kindness.

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