David Heckethorn (aka Santa Claus) loads up his van at the Foodbank / Photo by Bethany Prange
Cover your eyes kids. . .
We’re going to share a little secret.
You know Santa Claus, right? Well it turns out the big guy in red has a side gig in the off-season.
A few weeks ago, Santa dropped by the St. Louis Area Foodbank to fill his sleigh. . . ,er, we mean van,. . .with goodies for families in need.
Foodbank staff discovered that Santa, who also goes by the name David Heckethorn, has been volunteering at Hillsboro Food Pantry, a Foodbank partner agency.
Twice a week, Santa heads to the pantry to help pick up, deliver, sort and stack food for families in need.
When he arrived at the Foodbank, we were all pretty surprised to see him.
No, he didn’t show up with a bevy of reindeer and a bag of toys. That would be too obvious.
But Santa did bring along a “helper.”
Glennon Micke of De Soto, a fellow volunteer at the pantry, served as Santa’s partner, or “elf”, for the day.
In the off-season from toy-making, Santa found that volunteering at a food pantry was another great way to make people smile. Who wouldn’t find joy in handing out food to families in need?
Heckethorn has been Santa since he was 16. Back then, he’d dress up in the red suit and entertain families in his hometown of Ferguson.
He found so much joy in the role that he later played Santa at Northwest Plaza. By the early 1990s, he started growing his own beard year-round.
“It used to be brown and reddish and I would bleach it,” says Santa, whose natural beard is now a snowy white.
As one would expect, Santa is in high-demand from late November through Christmas. It’s a good thing he owns his own red suit!
Heckethorn is known as Santa throughout Jefferson County where he charms everyone at 10 to 15 different events every Christmas season.
One of his favorite annual events is with the De Soto Stocking Stuffers, a local group of volunteers who give out presents to children in need.
To help work his Santa magic, Heckethorn even brings along his girlfriend to play Mrs. Claus.
Last year, they brought smiles to the faces of soldiers’ children at an event at the St. Louis Armory.
“I really enjoy helping people out,” Santa says. “It makes you feel good.”
But don’t ask Santa to work on Christmas Eve. As any child will tell you, Santa is busy that day.
To keep true to the legend, Heckethorn doesn’t work on Christmas Eve. He knows Santa would be busy finalizing those toy deliveries.
In fact, the entire week before Christmas – up until Dec. 23 – Heckethorn can be found out in his yard in De Soto, playing Santa for anyone who drives by.
Word has spread over the years, and now, every night 75 to 100 cars full of excited kids come to wave at Santa. Many bring him hot chocolate and cookies.
Now, we know De Soto doesn’t exactly resemble the North Pole. But that doesn’t stop kids from believing.
“Last year I was down at a private party at the zoo, and when I came in the main entrance, the kids at the zoo that day just swarmed me,” Santa says.
So maybe it’s a bonus that the food pantry volunteer work helps Santa stay incognito.
The closer it gets to Christmas, the more kids recognize that white beard!
Bethany Prange is the communications coordinator at the St. Louis Area Foodbank