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‘Real’ Santa makes 100th trip to St. Jude

Children at Deerfield-Windsor lower school spell out “St. Judes” during a gathering at the school on Friday. Toys donated by the students are wrapped and ready for Joe Farris’ 100th trip to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn.

Children at Deerfield-Windsor lower school spell out “St. Judes” during a gathering at the school on Friday. Toys donated by the students are wrapped and ready for Joe Farris’ 100th trip to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn.

ALBANY — If you don’t believe in Santa, just ask the kids at a certain Memphis hospital next week. All of them will tell you that he’s real, and the older ones might say he lives in Douglas, Ga., and his real name is Joe Farris.

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Joe Farris

After a final stop Thursday at Deerfield-Windsor lower school for toys and monetary donations, a team of eight Christmas “elves” packed the St. Jude Sleigh for an incredible 100th time.

Founded by entertainer Danny Thomas in 1962, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., is the only pediatric hospital designated as a Comprehensive Cancer Center by the National Cancer Institute.

But building a facility like St. Jude isn’t an end for the children it serves. Funding day-to-day operations is a ceaseless challenge, especially since families around the world receive treatment, travel and lodging at no cost.

Farris has been the region’s St. Jude Santa and a spearhead for donations for nearly half a century. He began his long history with the hospital as a volunteer Santa in July 1962, just five months after the hospital opened. Even some of the younger children were confused by that beginning.

“We just told them Santa was on vacation from making all those toys,” Farris said, “and he decided to stop by to visit and give out some of the extras.”

Farris figures he and his helpers have driven hundreds of thousands of miles while collecting and delivering some 200,000 toys and soliciting around $3 million in donations for St. Jude.

“In 1957 I went to see Danny Thomas at a show in Atlanta with some of my family,” Farris said. “St. Jude didn’t exist then, but when the show was over (Thomas) was walking around the tables asking for support to build it. When he talked about leukemia, he got my interest. A really good friend of mine in high school had leukemia, and it just broke my heart when that young girl died.”

After that night, the man Thomas came to refer to as his “little brother” became a fund raiser for St. Jude.

“It’s all worthwhile when they hug my neck and tell me they love me,” Farris said. “I just love those kids so much. I don’t know how they manage to be so brave.”