Every year on Christmas Eve for as long as Clayton Fire Company members can remember, they've brought Christmas cheer to the families of Clayton through Operation Santa Claus.
While some say the program began in the 1950s and others say even earlier than that, Operation Santa Claus has had an impact on families for decades.
According to Bob Berghorn, Operation Santa Claus was started so children who wouldn't receive gifts for Christmas got at least something. It was originally held at the old firehouse on Railroad Avenue. Kids came to the firehouse to see Santa and were given a small gift.
Over time the event grew so much so that children from the surrounding communities would come and it became too expensive for the fire company to purchase gifts. Therefore a decision was made in 1962 that rather than having children coming to the firehouse to see Santa, the fire company would bring Santa to see them. Every year since 1962 on Christmas Eve Santa has been escorted on board of a fire truck to visit the children of Clayton. Fire Company member Skip Carrow said the only year the department didn't do Operation Santa Claus was in 1969 when a bad snow storm struck the area on Christmas Eve.
"By the evening when Santa was ready to make his trip, there was almost a foot of snow on the ground," Carrow said via email. "Santa tried to make his rounds that year but unfortunately got stuck several times to the point the fire truck could go no further. Then and only then has Santa failed to complete his run."
Since then there have been years that there has been pouring rain, snow, freezing rain, strong winds and even a wind chill factor of negative 17 degrees, but Santa always made his trip.
Carrow said Operation Santa Claus starts at 5:30 p.m. from the fire house and doesn't finish until Santa has gone down every street within the limits of Clayton. Santa is escorted around town by his helpers – the firefighters – who hand out a candy treat to each and every child who comes out to see Santa. About 30 fire company members help Santa.
"The firefighters give up their own time on Christmas Eve when everyone else is home with their families to see that every child in Clayton has a special Christmas," Carrow said. "The firefighters look forward to Christmas Eve with anticipation and joy of seeing all the children's eyes when they see Santa."
Clayton Fire Company Public Information Officer Kevin Wilson said he remembers going to the Clayton firehouse as a child to meet Santa and then when he was driven around town on a truck.
"You looked forward to seeing him one more time. Once he went by the house, you got ready for bed," Wilson said. "My mom tells the story that when she was young, she remembers going to the fire station in the late 30s and that was the only gift they got for a few years."
Email Jennifer Dailey at firstname.lastname@example.org.