Neon orange shirt, crisp khaki shorts, tennis shoes, snowy white beard affixed with elastic band and a traditional red Santa hat. He looked exactly like what you might imagine for a Southwest Florida Santa.
I didn’t meet him catching a few warm days on the beach before his big day delivering gifts but rather in the international arrival terminal at the Southwest Florida Regional Airport (RSW).
I found myself camped out there for a for a few hours awaiting a traveling family member. Her flight had been delayed and the luggage didn’t end up traveling with her so I had plenty of time watching this Airport Santa in action.
At first glance it appeared he was donning his festive garb to add a bit of levity as he worked behind the visitors’ information desk. He seemed friendly and warm answering questions of those waiting for friends and family flying in from Germany.
But as the hours past I realized he was providing much more than good information. He was a concierge of good cheer and hopefulness.
Prior to the flight landing on the tarmac I saw him calm the nerves of a sister whose phone had died and she was stressed about where to pick up her brother. He reassured her that this was the only international flight, she was on time and if for any reason he didn’t get off this flight she was to come back and they would figure something else out. You could see he had changed her whole day. Over the next hour he checked on her several times and even tried to help her find a phone charger for her Samsung- because unfortunately Santa is an Apple guy. He repeated these feats of helpfulness over and over as people approached his information workshop.
Airport Santa was kind and generous to all those waiting, but when the flight touched down it was clear that his focus was on the new arrivals. He cranked up the Christmas music, came out from behind his desk and bounded towards the arrival gate to greet the weary travelers.
As they emerged from customs clearly weary from their 10-hour flight, he would greet them in English and fluent German and welcomed them to Southwest Florida. He showered them holiday cheer, and answered every question as if they were the only people on the flight.
I watched in amazement as children stopped crying, slumped over visitors stood up right and smiles emerged the moment they encountered him.
He waited there until every single person deplaned and navigated customs. As stragglers made their way he would shout “Finally, we have been waiting for you!” as he stood next to the waiting families. You could tell they thought Santa was waiting there just for them.
Due to the lost luggage, my passenger was one of the last few out of customs. Interestingly as I watched Airport Santa work the terminal, I never interacted with him. And when my exhausted family member finally made her way to me he didn’t greet her. We were the only people he didn’t shower with holiday cheer.
It makes me wonder was he real, or was it just the magic of Christmas? It doesn’t matter, it was a gift to me either way. Airport Santa if you are reading this, thank you and see you next year.
The Southwest Florida Community Foundation, founded in 1976, cultivates regional change for the common good through collective leadership, social innovation and philanthropy to address the evolving community needs in Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Hendry and Glades counties. Last year, the Foundation partnered with individuals, families and corporations who have created over 400 philanthropic funds. Thanks to them, we’ve invested $5 million in grants and programs to the community. With assets of $93 million, the Community Foundation has provided more than $67 million in grants and scholarships to the communities it serves since inception. The Foundation is the backbone organization for the regional FutureMakers Coalition and Lee County’s Sustainability Plan. Based in Fort Myers, the Foundation has satellite offices located in Sanibel Island, LaBelle (Hendry County), and downtown Fort Myers. For more information, visit www.FloridaCommunity.com or call 239-274-5900.