This year has thrown so many curves at our normal day to day things that we like to do. It’s also affected how we celebrate the holidays. I just saw that many department stores and malls are changing the way kids can see Santa.

Some stores are making it virtual where Santa isn’t even on premise. Some stores are putting Santa behind a maze of plexiglass and other stores have cancelled Santa’s appearance all together. My heart literally breaks for those kids.

Back in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast. We did a toy drive here in New Jersey, collected over 80,000 toys and drove down to the Gulf Coast to distribute them. I dressed as Santa and we had constructed a portable Santa land that was second to none.

I should tell you that my Santa suit was handmade by my friends at Michael Duru tailors and was the most realistic Santa suit ever made. I purchased a $600 beard and wig and had the whole outfit, including Santa boots. I was all decked out.

We were going to go to the hard hit communities that had been devastated, my friend Pat Guadagno did a phenomenal job setting up distribution points. The very first time we set everything up my friends had Santa land all set up looking great, Bruce Springsteen was singing Santa Claus is Coming to Town on tape, and I walked in, the kids went nuts! I heard a girl in the front turn to her friend and say, “it is the real one, it’s really Santa!”

When each one of them came up to me they asked me to get their home back or bring back Daddy who’s working on finding a new home, or a new pet because their pet died in the hurricane. They looked me right in the eyes, and I looked at them right back. There was a huge connection. A connection that you can’t get virtually or through a plexiglass wall.

These were kids that had experienced such dislocation, such devastation that a small glimmer of hope lie in the face to face interaction with Santa. I had talked to a couple of children psychologists before I went down there. They provided guidance into how to handle the questions and solutions that these children would have.

I ended up making a “deal” with the kids. I told them I would try and do what I can. I asked them to try and help mommy and daddy and to stay strong. Each one of the kids would shake my hand and then give a hug. It was beyond emotional. My guys who were with me, strong big guys that I have known for 25 years had tears streaming from their eyes and threaten to disfigure anybody who told anyone that they were tearing up. The interaction with Santa was a relief.

The kids that have experienced problems from Covid have gone through the similar topsy-turvy discord that the kids from Katrina went through. No school, no friends after school, no after school programs, mom and dad out of work, tighter budgets, a little more tense situations at home.

They need something or someone like Santa to let them know it’s going to be okay and to tell them to hang in there and be strong. I know we need to protect everybody with the virus but there has to be a way where the kids can get a normal interaction with Santa Claus. Just my humble opinion. Merry Christmas.