'Christmas magic lives in the hearts of children'

Santa Claus waves to children and adults alike while asking their Christmas wishes
Santa Claus waves to children and adults alike while asking their Christmas wishes

With December being right around the corner, The Daily Jeffersonian reached out to Santa Claus to see what message he wanted to share with our readers this holiday season. Santa has been busy at the North Pole preparing for Christmas Eve, but was able to chat about the Guernsey County Secret Santa program.

For those who don't know, Santa Claus has quite a large operation he runs right here in Guernsey County, aptly named Secret Santa. The program is run entirely by volunteer elves and helpers, who work tirelessly throughout the year to provide local children with an experience they will never forget.

Some of those volunteers represent Santa on Christmas Eve, as they travel around delivering presents and smiles. One of those volunteers has a close relationship with The Daily Jeffersonian, as he saved the life of an elderly woman while on his paper route as a young boy, according to Santa Claus.

"I was watching that day, and when William Alpha Johnston came to deliver the newspaper to an elderly customer, he noticed it was odd her paper from the previous day was still out, and her mail hadn't been gathered. Upon further inspection, he saw she was lying on the floor of her home, unresponsive. Little Alpha (as he's known around the North Pole) did the right thing by getting help for his customer and calling for first responders. If he hadn't been such a good boy, who knows what could have happened" recalled Santa.

Johnston grew up and felt the calling to help deliver the Christmas spirit and make a difference in his community. For the past 21 years, he has been one of Santa's top helpers, filling those big boots whenever he had the chance. Hearing wishes from children at various events, dancing on Wheeling Avenue for a Secret Santa boot drive, or delivering gifts on Christmas Eve, he keeps busy throughout the holiday season. Recently, it was reported that Johnston stood in for the actual Santa during the Cambridge Christmas Parade, a first for him. Santa Claus has yet to confirm the details of that report.

When asked what's been his favorite part about being one of Santa's helpers Johnston replied, "It's always the kids. Just to see their faces light up when they see you." While most children ask Santa for toys, some ask for more. "I asked one little girl one time what she wanted for Christmas and she said 'I just want some money to help Mommy pay our bills this winter'" recalled Johnston. "They say stuff that gets you (in the heart)."

Being one of Santa Claus' representatives hasn't always been easy for Johnston. While out delivering gifts on Christmas Eve one year, he was crossing the street, accompanied by vehicles with their lights flashing, when a woman sped through an intersection and hit him. Luckily a twisted knee was the only injury. The woman stated she was in a hurry to get home because Santa Claus was there and she wanted to be sure her kids saw him.

Kasey Crooks, Melissa Wheeler, William Johnston, Tammy Ball and Gerry Shaffer help out at the Christmas in July Wheeling Avenue boot drive for Secret Santa.
Kasey Crooks, Melissa Wheeler, William Johnston, Tammy Ball and Gerry Shaffer help out at the Christmas in July Wheeling Avenue boot drive for Secret Santa.

Even with all of the Christmas events that Santa is asked to be at, the biggest night is, of course, Christmas Eve. The volunteers with the Secret Santa program (and sometimes Santa Claus himself) gather up the bags of presents they've collected throughout the year and make the drop-offs, sometimes delivering until 5 a.m. if necessary.

The program delivers gifts to an average of 500 families a year. As of last week, more than 100 children have already had their names submitted for 2022. Secret Santa operates under the tax exemption of the fire department, so local departments often will deliver to their respective service areas.

Those who help run the operation volunteer time and energy throughout the entire year. If any local students need volunteer hours to graduate, they can meet those requirements at Secret Santa. Wrapping, bagging, and delivering are all areas where help is needed. The program is also on the lookout for more Santas as backup, or to help cover routes.

The operation has a new home this year at 708 Wheeling Ave. in Cambridge, behind Bennet Paper by the train tracks. Families can call the program and give their information to receive a visit and presents from Old Saint Nick. If there is only one child in a household, Santa has deemed that child to be guaranteed a bicycle.

When asked what Santa's message to area adults was, he replied "On Christmas Eve, Santa will be out and about. So if you see any flashing lights, please be aware Santa may be crossing the street."

When asked what Santa wanted to say to area kids, he replied, "Santa is always watching. I see you arguing with your siblings and not picking up your toys, so we need to stop doing that. I don't want to step on something and accidentally break it, because my elves are very busy this time of year making toys. Be sure to eat your dinners, and, know this: I know there are no bad kids. I use my Santa magic and can tell if you've got a little ornery streak, but every kid argues and forgets to pick up their toys. So, keep believing and doing the very best that you can because Christmas magic lives in the hearts of children, and Santa sees it. Have a very Merry Christmas! HO! HO! HO!"

For more information about the Secret Santa program, to volunteer or to sign up a family or child, call 740-439-0934.

This article originally appeared on The Daily Jeffersonian: 'Christmas magic lives in the hearts of children'