It’s December, and that means Santa Joe McGee, the Real Deal Santa, is passionately striving to bring Christmas cheer to boys and girls while raising funds to fight pediatric cancer. Over the past seven Decembers, Santa Joe and Mrs. Claus (Dawn), have raised over $160,000 for Children’s Health Care of Atlanta and the University of Florida Health Proton Therapy Institute.
However, this year, Coronavirus brings unusual challenges.
“The children aren’t sitting in Santa’s lap this Christmas,” he said. “They get their temperatures checked and wear masks until pictures are made. We keep our distance. We’re being cautious.”
Plus, he’s not making as many appearances.
“A lot of events have been cancelled. The economic situation has hurt. Fayetteville cancelled the Christmas parade we’re always in, but they are setting up virtual Santa visits instead. The Trilith development (in Fayetteville) has had us five times for visits and pictures with Santa. We’re grateful for what we get to do.”
Santa Joe borrowed a restored antique sleigh for many of this year’s events. The beautiful sleigh from the early 1900’s allows Santa to sit in the front and turn around and visit with children in the back.
“Very rarely do kids get to sit in a sleigh,” he said. “They are excited!”
He loves all the children but has a special place in his heart for pediatric cancer patients. Several years ago, when Joe battled prostate cancer and travelled to the University of Florida Health Proton Therapy Institute for surgery, the bald-headed children playing in the lobby caught his eye and his heart.
McGee says he’s humbled to be Santa to these children.
“When this child sits in your lap and that magic moment comes when they look at you and they suddenly see the North Pole, you can see it in their eyes,” Santa Joe shared.
“That gives them a special moment when they don’t have to think about their health problems. The smile Santa puts on their faces gives me deep satisfaction. It’s hard to describe. It’s very humbling to realize the great joy you bring to a child.”
The first time Santa Joe was the guest of honor at the Delta Airlines event held most Decembers, he met a very sick child who was thrilled to see Santa. The hospital staff pushed the wheelchair over to Santa and the child’s excitement was amazing. One month later, he died, making an incredible impact on Santa Joe.
On another occasion, a tumor robbed a child of his sight. He came to visit Santa Joe. The boy could visualize the Santa he had seen before his blindness, yet Santa Joe allowed him to touch his big belt buckle, feel his fat belly, feel his heavy sleigh bells and even wear his hat. A huge smile blanketed his face.
Though hospital visits are out this year, Santa Joe’s events sometimes bring him to meet the very people he’s trying to help. That happened in a November visit. Later the mom shared their story on Santa Joe’s Facebook page – her son’s battle with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL).
“These are the children we are so desperately trying to help. Pediatric cancer is a family disease, it affects everyone in the family,” he posted. “Our prayers will follow (this family).”
As Santa Joe visits with the children, he hears all sorts of requests. One little girl asked, “Santa, can you heal my Mom? She just had surgery.”
Santa replied, “Those are the kind of gifts I’d like to be able to give the most, but I can’t do those kind of things. But I can pray and ask God to heal your momma.”
He also intentionally promotes the real meaning of Christmas.
“I’ll ask, ‘you know why we really celebrate Christmas, don’t you?’
Amazingly, many do not have a clue what Christmas is really about.
“I tell them ‘Jesus Christ was born on Christmas Day and that’s why we celebrate.”
Last year, Santa Joe raised over $50,000. This year is going much slower, he said. They have reached around $22,000 towards their $50,000 goal.
The former college baseball player does his best.
“It’s in the Lord’s hands,” he says. “It’s sort of like pitching a baseball. Once it leaves your hand, you have no control over what happens – whether it ends up in the bleachers or in the catcher’s mitt.
“I don’t keep one dime. If I did, I couldn’t sleep at night. This effort is not about me and the money. It’s about helping these kids.”
If you’re interested in helping Santa Joe reach his 2020 goal, contact him through his website, www.therealdealsanta.com. Also, “like” his Facebook page.
(David L. Chancey is pastor, McDonough Road Baptist Church, Fayetteville, Georgia. Join them Sunday for Bible study at 9:45 and worship at 8:45 and 10:55 a.m. Visit www.mcdonoughroad.org to worship online. Contact Chancey at [email protected]. Check out Chancey’s new book, The Most Wonderful News You Will Hear! Proclaiming Glad Tidings at Christmas on Amazon).