During the 10 days leading up to Dec. 25, members of the Northfield Fire Department made house calls, bringing Santa and his helpers by fire truck to greet local neighborhood children.
Addison Pepper, 3, of Northfield, wanted an American Girl doll and a trip to Disney World for Christmas. And on a recent Monday night, she had the chance to ask Santa himself.
As the fire alarms approached Bob and Kate Campbell's brightly decorated home on Juniper Drive, more than 15 kids ran to the street's edge to see if it was truly the jolly man in the red suit.
"Seeing the kids light up, that's the best part. The kids are so excited. They love it," said Kate Campbell, who welcomed children and their families from her child-care business to meet Santa that night.
Campbell has scheduled the appointment with the fire department for the past four years. Her eldest son, Bobby, 11, took on camera duty this year, she said. But he didn't mind letting the younger crowd get the attention.
"(The best part) is the joy of the children," he said as his neighbors took their turn upon Santa's lap.
Deputy chief Robert Leeds said the tradition, which begins after the town's annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony, has gone on for too long for him to remember. The idea was initially started by a former firefighter more than 15 years ago, he said.
"I'm not real positive of how long exactly (we have done it, but) I know everybody enjoys doing it," the chief said of the free service.
The department buys candy canes and orders 500 stuffed toys months in advance in order to distribute for each request. And although the house calls are free of charge, the department has taken donations - which later help purchase equipment such as LED flashlights and tables for the department - said Mike Weierbach, the firefighter who has become the familiar truck, or "sleigh," driver for years.
The department made stops Sunday through Saturday, visiting about 40 addresses per week. Some houses hosted as many as 20 children, some just two. The number did not matter, Weierbach added.
Breana Badger-Watson, of Egg Harbor Township, daughter of firefighter Cindy Badger, has dressed as Santa's helper for seven years. Her main task has been persuading some of the hesitant kids that Santa is not scary. But mostly, the event is received well by all, she said.
"It's a lot of fun," she said. "It goes really well. The kids really get a kick out of it."
Leeds said that many of the same people call to make an appointment each year, as soon as the flyers advertising the service come out.
And the happiness that the short visits bring to the local youth must have something to do with the influx of calls.
"It's fun," he said. "It's amazing what Santa does to little kids on a fire truck."
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