Pupils’ eyes lit up as they approached the end of a hallway at Hammond Hill Elementary School.
In the corner sat Ol’ St. Nick with a long, green carpet leading up to his chair.
Many exclaimed “Santa!” and waved as they lined up to tell him what they want for Christmas.
For North Augusta Public Safety D.A.R.E. Officer Tom Rogers, responses like these are why he has volunteered to dress up as Santa for area activities and events for the past 11 years. He has even delivered toys to the homes of friends for their children.
“I love seeing the excitement. And it’s not just kids who are excited; adults are too,” he said.
“For some kids, this is the only time they get to have any personal contact with Santa.”
His visit with Hammond Hill pupils on Dec. 12 was the last of the scheduled holiday activities before Christmas arrives, he said.
One by one, children sat in Santa’s lap telling him their wishes, some leaning in close and covering the sides of their faces to whisper to him their Christmas desires.
Some asked for electronics such as the Nintendo DS and iPod. Others asked for traditional toys such as baby dolls and cars, Rogers said.
Then there were a few practical, but unexpected, requests that surprised some of the adults and even Rogers, such as school clothes.
One pupil asked for a tuxedo because he was going to be in someone’s wedding.
“That was definitely a first for me,” Rogers said of the tuxedo request.
He knew as a child that he wanted to grow up one day and be Santa.
“I had a special man who came and visited me one Christmas morning,” he said. He later found out that Santa was his uncle.
“After I learned the truth about what he does, which is bring happiness and joy to people, I wanted to do it for others. I wanted to pay it forward,” he said.
As a D.A.R.E. officer, Rogers is always in the schools, which makes planning and preparing for the holidays a challenge.
He starts planning his Santa appearances at the beginning of the school year. With the help of the teachers, staff and principals, he’s able to pull it off without the children realizing that he is Santa, he said.
Being Santa never gets old or boring, Rogers said, adding that he gets as much joy out of it as those who see him.
“As a police officer, we are often the ones people call when lives are falling apart or when things are going bad,” said Rogers.
“To be able to bring joy is good for me. I enjoy doing it because I get to bring a little bit of happiness into people's lives.”