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Dadeland Mall Santa gives wages to charity

A South Miami resident has played the role of Santa Claus for a decade, and says he gives his wages to charity..

By Rodolfo Roman
Special to The Miami Herald

For years, South Miami residents Burt Harris and Christine Reed-Harris would head to the Dadeland Mall every holiday season to have their picture taken with Santa Claus.

“It became a habit,” said Harris. “We hanged it in our house gallery and watched how we aged.”But 10 years ago, the couple arrived at the mall to find the jolly old elf missing. Harris stepped into the gap.

“I love kids. I have a ball doing it,” said Harris, 78. “It’s more than just a child coming and taking a picture.”Fast-forward to today; Harris is celebrating a decade of playing the role of Santa Claus cheering children, adults and pets of all ages.Not only does Harris bring joy to children who visit him at the mall, he also donates his paycheck to the non-profit organization, Parent to Parent of Miami, a resource center for families of children and adults with all disabilities.

In the past, he has donated his wages to other charities. He wouldn’t say the amount he donates but added it is several thousand dollars. Harris works Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
“The money I received should be spent on the children,” he said. “It’s the spirit of the season.”Most of the year, Harris runs his own business, Security Bond Associates. But for the holidays he works for the mall’s Santa Claus contractor, Colorado-based NOERR Programs. Ruth Rosenquist, Marketing Consultant at NOERR, said Harris defines the character of Santa Claus.
“He really exemplifies the heart of Santa and what is all about,” she said.
For Harris, it’s not an easy job to play the big man in the red suit on Saturdays and Sundays. Before going to work, his wife helps him with his outfit, as his beard is not completely white. Therefore, it takes him an hour to get his beard and hair looking white as snow using an actor’s spray paint. Also, he purchases his custom made Santa suits, which cost around $600 each. He owns three. But, the hard work pays off he said.

“It’s the enjoyment that I get from the kids,” he said. “The people in the mall stop. There are crowds of people watching what goes on.”
Every year, Harris, who is surrounded by elves while taking pictures, is an attraction. Families bring him presents or milk and cookies.

“People just keep coming back on the weekend to see if I am there,” said Harris, who sees about 75 children a day.He also has had his grandchildren visit him. They don’t recognize him. Newborns and senior citizens get their pictures taken with him.

“It takes them back to their younger days,” he said. “It’s tough out there right now and this gives them comfort.”Harris said he tells himself every year is his last, but he loves it too much.“It’s a pleasure to do what you do and see the gratification,” he said.

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