First graders line up at Wills Valley Elementary School to slap Santa’s hand with high-fives after taking photos with the man visiting from the North Pole, aka, Mike Griggs, of Fort Payne, who has served as Santa’s helper since around 2000.
Initially, he put on the big red suit for a civic club who treated the service as a way to raise money for scholarships.
Then he partnered with St. Jude, which runs a Children’s Research Hospital.
He said at the end of the season, after all the funds are collected, he sends one lump sum to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
“I don’t take anything out for travel or nothing; 100 percent of what I get I donate back,” Griggs said.
Griggs, whose day job is working for the City of Fort Payne, said his closet is ready for the holiday season with multiple Santa suits.
“I don’t have just one suit,” he said. “They each cost about $400. I don’t want to be ‘Walmart Santa,’ because they last about two to three seasons if I don’t change it up, but sometimes I do change it up. I’ve got two or three different styles.”
He will be available for Pictures with Santa Dec. 5 from 3 to 6 p.m. at The Times-Journal. There is no charge for photos and parents are welcome to bring their own camera, but donations will be taken for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
Most of Griggs’ Santa gigs are within a few minutes of Fort Payne, but he said he will travel further for a larger donation.
He said the cost for a residential visit is $30 per visit, which usually lasts about 20 to 30 minutes. He said for businesses it’s a minimum of $100, which is generally about 45 minutes to an hour.
If he’s at a location longer, Griggs asks for a larger donation.
With 20 to 30 visits a year, Griggs said his donations average in between $2,500 to $3,000 a season.
Griggs said he was looking for a cause to raise money for and St. Jude Children’s Hospital was something he felt had a large impact in research and in families’ lives.
“I was looking for something to be passionate about, and I’ve had the opportunity to go up there and tour the hospital, and it’s just what I’ve made my priority,” Griggs said. “I wanted an organization I knew was steady and sound, and I knew the biggest portion raised for them goes to the hospital and everyone they treat.”
He said the progression of St. Jude’s research is something he finds inspiring.
“The strides they make on helping to cure childhood cancer and things they learn from that goes on up through the line,” Griggs said. “It’s very inspirational.”
When asked about his favorite gig as St. Nick, Griggs immediately said it is the ARC of DeKalb County Christmas Party.
The ARC is a program that provides classes and real-life skill courses for adults with intellectual disabilities. Every year, for more than 30 years, members of the Fort Payne Rotary Club have partnered with the ARC to buy Christmas presents for ARC consumers.
Anyone wanting to contact Griggs to book him as “Santa for St. Jude” can call him at 256-996-8243.
He needs a notice of at least a week to schedule his visit for your family or business.
– Hannah Raughton contributed to this article.