Shortage to keep ‘helper’ busy during holidays
DAVID STONE | OUR TOWN TEMPLE
Don’t worry kids, Santa will be making his rounds as usual this year. But pre-Christmas opportunities to visit with the jolly one’s helpers may be a bit slim.
The entire planet is still feeling the effects of a COVID-19 related labor crunch, and while Santa and Mrs. Claus — and those elves — are preparing for Christmas 2022, the Santa network is severely short-handed.
The pandemic has been hard on the Santa community. Most of those who help Santa by filling his big black boots at shopping centers, department stores, parades and community events are on the pudgy side. Many are in the 60+ age range, overweight and are diabetic, and there has been a higher-than-usual rate of casualties among Santas during the COVID-19 years.
While there are no numbers nationally or globally, Santa organizations across the US are seeing a decline in numbers. One group, The International Brotherhood of Real Bearded Santas, lost 55 members to COVID, and another called Santa’s Last Ride lost more than 330 in 2021 alone. That’s just two of the many Santa organizations in America.
Given the higher risk among Santas, many performers are opting not to work this year, and there’s not a lot of people stepping up to fill those boots. Professional Santa schools nationwide have been reporting lower enrollment rates and a high number of students dropping out because of never-ending pandemic concerns.
But while the numbers are down, demand is sky high.
Richard Elliott, a Central Texan who portrays Santa in Temple, Belton, Waco and other locations in the area, has noticed an upswing in demand.
“Halloween is still two weeks away, and I’m already getting a lot of requests,” Elliott said this week. “There has definitely been more interest than in the past.”
For Santa fill-ins such as Elliott, appearance season usually begins soon after Halloween.
“Demand is high,” he said. “Typically, I get in about 100 appearances between Halloween and New Year’s Day. This year, I’ll make as many appearances as I can. I hate to turn people away.”
“I really haven’t done a parade yet, but I’ve done a ton of business and corporate parties, church and school events, photo shoots and home visits,” Elliott said. “Home visits are my favorite — they can be magical. Before I go to a home to visit with kids, I find out as much as I can about them, such as their names, their interests.”
“I visited a kid last year, and he was amazed when I told him he needed to practice the piano more,” Elliott said with a chuckle. “I even asked about Jake, his dog. It was a magical moment for the family.”
Elliott’s first gig as Santa was back in 1983.
“My wife, Debby, was working at a department store, and they needed a Santa,” he said. “I volunteered, and I thought it would be a one-time thing.”
“Years later, I took my grandkids to a Bass Pro Shop to see Santa Claus,” he said. “The line was extremely long and slow moving. I had a nice white beard, and when we finally got to the front of the line, Santa gave me a long look.”
“He told me he was short handed, and asked if I’d be interested in helping out. I didn’t, but it got me thinking. The next year, I started making appearances.”
When he started back in 1983, Elliott padded his Santa suit and wore a fake beard. Today, it’s all real.
While Santa visits were extremely limited during the 2020 holiday season — and 2021 to a lesser extent — Elliott was able to keep his business afloat with virtual visits.
“I made a very limited number of personal no-contact visits in 2020,” he said, “but I made more than 700 virtual appearances. I still do online visits, and kids love them. I have an animated background of Santa’s workshop with the elves busy making toys, a fire burning in a fireplace and the Northern Lights shimmering in the night sky.”
As a grandfather of nine, Elliott gets plenty of practice time, and he’s now in Santa shape for the 2022 holiday season.
To contact Elliott, email firstname.lastname@example.org.