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Santa spreads holiday cheer

Despite pandemic restrictions putting a major damper on Christmas festivities, it would appear that even Saint Nicholas would be hard pressed to refuse a favor to Central Point’s Debbie Saxbury.

Santa agreed to make a quick pitstop on Saturday to the Scenic Avenue fire station to climb aboard a Fire District 3 yellow fire engine.

He’d have taken his reindeer and sleigh of course, but the cloud cover likely would have prevented the families, camped out in their front yards and at area schools and churches, from getting a glance at his rosy cheeks.

While trying to afford Santa some privacy, Saxbury confirmed that the North Pole’s favorite elf had, in fact, sent a letter in recent weeks, agreeing to her request that he pay a visit.

Santa was escorted by District 3 firefighters at noon and spent a few hours driving around town with sirens and lights. Radio station KBOY followed the firetruck, kicking off the drive with “Here Comes Santa Claus.”

Phoenix resident Ben Vait waved at Santa with 3-year-old daughter, Mami, who pointed and smiled as Santa drove toward Scenic Avenue. Vait said the event was a fun way to try and preserve a little bit of festivities that had been lost this year due to social distancing requirements.

“I think it’s awesome. I was freaking out that she wasn’t going to be able to see Santa,” said Vait.

Waiting in the parking lot of Path Church, bundled in jackets and waiting to show off the sign they made for Santa, four cousins listened carefully for sirens or for Santa’s infamous “Ho, Ho, Ho!”

Julie Weaver, grandmother to the foursome, said Santa’s drive-by was a tiny bit of some much-needed happiness in a year without the usual holiday fun.

“We think it’s really great they’re thinking outside of the box and being creative during these times,” she said.

“When we look at memories that pop up of all the things we did last year with the kids, it’s just really hard.”

Weaver’s husband, Skip Weaver added, “It’s almost like they canceled Christmas.”

Five-year-old Ella Smith, one of the four, said Santa had called earlier in the week, verifying his identity by pointing out her favorite food.

“He called me on the phone. He said he knew I like chicken nuggets,” she said.

“I think he will bring me toys in my stocking ... and a toy fridge.”

Across town, waiting for the wail of the fire truck siren, Angelica Eschmann and Kenzie Brownlee, of Central Point, waited along Alder Street with Eschmann’s daughter Arabella.

“She’s 2-and-a-half so I can’t have her not get to see Santa,” said the mom.

“We can’t go get pictures with him or anything like that so we’re going to see him drive by. It’s cool he was able to get a ride on a fire truck.”

District 3 community engagement coordinator Heather Sears said the station was honored to have Santa hitch a ride with firefighters on Saturday. His route followed that of the Fourth of July car cruise hosted this summer. Sears said escorting Santa through town was a small way of adding some Christmas cheer to less-than-ideal holiday season.

“We realized, with COVID going on, there aren’t any opportunities for kids to sit in Santa’s lap and see him,” Sears said.

“We love being involved in our community and getting out there and seeing the kids — and being able to bring Santa along is even better.”

A long-time community volunteer, Saxbury said Saturday’s even brought her to tears when she saw families dancing on sidewalks and waving to Santa, waving signs and cheering as he drove by.

“I’ve been teared up since we started. There were so many kids and families out. Everybody just went bonkers, bringing neighborhoods together and stuff. It was really, really touching,” she said.

“There were so many signs up all over the place. It was just one of the best things I’ve ever done.”Reach freelance writer Buffy Pollock at buffyp76@yahoo.com

There's still a chance to see Santa

With excitement still abuzz from Santa’s surprise appearance this weekend in Central Point, Jackson County Fire District 3 and Debbie Saxbury have a pair of events planned this week including a zoom call with Santa, and a bell ringing event on Christmas Eve.

Details for “Santa Claus is Coming to Zoom,” with the infamous Coca-Cola Santa (real Santa will be busy at the North Pole, obviously) can be found on the district’s Facebook page (facebook.com/JCoFD3). The zoom is scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 22.

On Christmas Eve, a community bell ringing event is planned. The newly opened Pine Street Marketplace is co-sponsoring the event with Saxbury and has agreed to have low-cost bells in stock for residents.

Pine Street Marketplace owner Cheryl Petersen anticipated lots of bell ringing in just a few days.

“It’s been a big hit. People have been so excited. They walk in and say, ‘Where are the bells?’ ” Petersen said.

“There’s something about Central Point. I don’t even know how many bells we’ve sold. It would be really neat to be able to walk outside and hear all those bells ringing at the same time on Christmas Eve.”

Families are asked to step outside at 6 p.m. on Christmas Eve and ring their bells to lead Santa back to town, for two full minutes, and to ring in some Christmas spirit, said Saxbury.

Pine Street Marketplace is located at 216 East Pine Street. For info on bells, call 541-413-5999.

Fire District 3 Chaplain Lorin Myers plays Santa during a ride on a fire engine Saturday through Central Point. Photo by Denise Baratta