Panama City - Come December 24th a Southport man will don his santa suit, jump in his "sleigh" and make Christmas merry for Northwest Florida's neediest children. He's been known as the "Southport Santa" for 33 years, and 5 years ago the nickname became more than that.
His home in Southport is Bay County's equivalent of the North Pole. Inside hundreds of gifts are packed and ready for delivery by Santa Claus himself. It's a role this Southport man takes so seriously, he changed his name. "That is my legal name, Santa Nicholas Claus," said Santa.
For more than 3 decades he's been bringing the joy of Christmas to the darkest of places. "Our goal is to reach people who feel like they are in hopeless situations. To reach out to children who feel like they have no one else to turn to," said Santa. "He goes to the homeless. He goes to the areas where people have severe disadvantages, where most people are not welcome. With small gifts he spreads the message of hope," said Ken Whittaker, a friend and supporter.
Sometimes it's a dangerous undertaking. "When you go into substandard housing conditions you run into all kinds of people. And during Christmas time these people get desperate and will do very desperate things. Twice I have been beaten within an inch of my life, I've been mugged by a couple of people who wanted my boots and brass buckle."
But it's a risk he's willing to take. "That is what this ministry does. It goes out to those individuals and it tells them that there is hope. That God does have a plan for their life. With the simple token of a toy we get their interest. We approach them with the message that God loves and cares for them and there is a light at the end of the tunnel," said Santa.
Santa will be making his deliveries on Christmas Eve. But there is still plenty of time to help. Fleece blankets for children, the elderly, and the homeless tops Santa's wish list. He could also use more gas money to get that sleigh off the ground. You can drop your donations off at the station.