When Jacqulin Spooner first dressed as Mrs. Santa Claus, the kids weren’t too certain about her and most of them went to Santa until one of them “broke the ice” to take a photograph.
“Then everybody else just followed suit,” said a beaming Spooner. “It’s like I belong to them. They have their own personal Mrs. Claus.”
It was nearly six years ago that the St. Rose resident decided she’d fit the role where she works at EXCELth Family Health Center in New Orleans. Every year, she helps with the center’s toy giveaway and realized she was getting gifts, too.
“I thought it would be something different to be Mrs. Claus,” she said. “I enjoy it. I love what I do, and I love interacting with the kids.”
Then came the opportunity to be alongside Santa Claus at the Annual Marine Toys for Tots Holiday Toy Drive – and Spooner’s excitement for the role deepened even more. This year’s event is 2 – 5 p.m. Dec. 21 at the Jerusalem Temple on Ormond Boulevard in Destrehan.
Each year’s event is bigger than the year earlier, Spooner said.
“I actually look forward to it every year,” she said. Spooner now has several outfits to wear depending on the weather. “It’s just a joy to be a part of it.”
At Excelth, she sees about 30 to 40 children, but at Toys for Tots the number skyrockets to more than 200 children.
“It’s like it’s never ending,” Spooner said of the many children who line up to see her. “But no child is turned away.”
Kajuan Smith of Destrehan, who has played Santa for two years at the event, said Dr. K Movement founder Anthony Straughter asked him to play Santa and he agreed. Straughter had helped him with community work such as feeding the homeless in New Orleans and Back to School drives, and he wanted to help him in return so he put on the Santa suit.
“Anything for the kids,” Smith said. “I really don’t celebrate too many holidays, but I enjoy just seeing the smiles on their faces.”
Smith said children ask him if he wants milk and cookies. One child asked if he could come to the North Pole with Santa.
“I didn’t know what to tell him,” he said. “But I did say, “Yea.’”
But Smith said he is ever reminded of how a toy can change a child’s life, and particularly when he knows some of them personally. He reminds his own children about being appreciative of the things they have in life.
The children also want to know about Mrs. Claus.
“They ask how long it’ll be before I go back to the North Pole,” she said.
Spooner said she replies, “This is year-round work. I come and go. If I stay at the North Pole, how are you going to get your toys? Mrs. Claus’ work is never done.”
Some ask if she and Mr. Claus are married and if they have children.
“Do I know what they’re getting for Christmas?” she said. “I tell them Santa has to share with me and between the two of us we’ll make sure you get what you want.”
Some of the boys don’t think it’s cool to take pictures, Spooner said. But she talks them in to taking one.
Many of these children are being raised by single parents or their grandparents, she said. Without Toys for Tots, they would probably wake up with nothing for Christmas.
“Seeing the smiles on their face is priceless,” Spooner said. “You can’t put a tag on that, and it’s just knowing you’ve done something to make them happy.”