Santa Claus is getting extra help this year with spreading the holiday cheer. This merry kickoff started Dec. 10 when members of the Pine Bluff Fire and Emergency Services visited various neighborhoods in Pine Bluff for their nightly Holiday Santa Run. On Monday, firefighters James Mauer, Christopher Mackey and Joel Porchia greeted children with candy canes and a jolly old St. Nick smile in the parking lot of Super 1 Foods.

“I enjoy getting to see the kids,” said Mackey, who is an engineer. “This is a big deal for the kids.”

Mackey has participated in the Holiday Santa Run for the past few years. He said the event gives the community a chance to interact with firefighters on a more intimate level.

“It gives them the opportunity to see us in a not so serious side of the job,” he said. “A lot of people see us out in the grocery store and stuff and this is a chance to see us when we’re not in go mode.”

Children lined up in the parking lot of Super 1 Foods waiting for their chance to take a picture with Santa Claus and share their Christmas wish lists with the jolly fellow. LaKietha McKinney of Stuttgart was driving from her dentist’s office when she spotted the decked out Santa Truck, causing her to pull over so her sons and nephews could meet Santa.

“We saw the truck on the news and they really wanted to stop,” said McKinney.

While other children embraced Santa Claus, James Darryl’s granddaughter, Kayle James Micmitschler, was too scared to give him a hug. But, in the midst of her tears, she managed to grab hold of a candy cane.

“She used to be scared of the truck,” said Darryl. “She used to run from the truck, but now she likes to look at it. I knew the truck was going to be out here, so I just try to keep up with it so she can see it.”

“Rudolph, the Red Nose Reindeer,” and “Let it Snow” were just a couple of the tunes that reverberated throughout the streets as the Santa Truck rolled around the areas of west of Hazel Street, north of 42nd Avenue, and South of 28th Avenue. Hearing the music brought Kenny, LaCrystal and Chloe Poindexter outside to see the decorated truck adorned with Christmas lights and outdoor decorations, including ornaments, snowflakes and wreaths.

“I think it’s great to come out and just show the community that they are interested in more than just the fire,” Kenny Poindexter said.

Mauer’s daughter, Kayla, brought Santa his favorite treat — cookies. Even though she saw through the disguise, Mauer says it was a treat to be able to be Santa Claus for his daughter and the children throughout the community.

“I’m happy to bring smiles to children’s faces and their families,” he said. “I got toy lists, they told me they were good all year and lots of hugs. It was a great experience and I look forward to doing it next year.”

Ever since Porchia has been with the department, he’s been afforded the opportunity to take part in the event. He says the Holiday Santa Run gives firefighters another way to reach out to children across Pine Bluff.

“I think it’s amazing how a small gesture like this can change a kid’s life even if it’s only one kid,” he said.

The Holiday Santa Run will last until Dec. 23. The remaining schedule is as follows:

On Friday, Dec. 22, the Santa Truck will travel to East of Blake, North of 28th Ave, West of Hazel, South of 6th Ave (Violet, Shady Grove, Orchid, Daffodil, Tulip, Jonquil, Rose, Iris, Edmar, Howard Drive, Catalpa, Birch, Myrtle, Highland, Sycamore, Larch, Juniper, Bois D’ Arc, Peach, Marsh, Fox, Arlington, Bay, Amis).

On Saturday, Dec. 23, the Santa Truck will stop at Walmart Supercenter, 5501 Olive Street, on Saturday, Dec. 23, from 5-5:30 p.m. and will continue on to South of Ridgeway (Indian Hills, Silver Fox, War Eagle, Mulberry Street, Dancing Rabbit, Running Bear, Blackhawk Ridge, Deer Run, Rosswood, Golf View Dr, 73rd Ave, Fairway Drive, Par Lane).

Details: Contact the Pine Bluff Fire and Emergency services at (870) 730-2048.