ALBANY, Ga. - Joe Farris, Southwest Georgia's own Santa Claus, is making his list and checking it twice for his 98th visit to deliver gifts to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital with some help from the students and teachers at Deerfield-Windsor Lower School.
Friday morning, Farris attended the Deerfield Lower School's annual St. Jude Christmas program where the students sang in celebration of the Christmas season and presented gifts and more than $1,000 worth of donations collected for the children at St. Jude.
The partnership between Farris and Deerfield-Windsor "has been an annual tradition for 31 years," said Deerfield Lower School director Cary Stoudenmire.
"A teacher, Mrs. Dale Joiner, got the idea that our school could support St. Jude 31 years ago," said Stoudenmire. "And it's the highlight of our year now."
Farris is thrilled to be a part of the annual celebration. "My heart is just bursting open with happiness," he told the crowd of parents and students.
"My sister, Louise Nahra, and I have helped to raise over $2 million [for St. Jude]," Farris said.
"And the hospital has made a lot of progress," he added.
When St. Jude opened in 1962, the hospital had only a 4 percent cure rate in patients suffering from acute lymphocytic leukemia.
But currently, Farris is proud to say that "the hospital is up to a 94 percent cure rate for leukemia."
For Farris, the best parts of his year come in December and July when he makes his biannual visit to distribute gifts to the children undergoing treatment at St. Jude.
"When I go to St. Jude, it's the happiest time of my life," he said.
Farris will travel to Memphis over the weekend and will be at St. Jude on Monday where he says he will "take a full day to give out gifts and let the kids take pictures with Santa".
"All those children come and sit on Santa's lap and hug my neck -- it makes my Christmas," Farris says. "It's so special, knowing that they're having a happy Christmas."