ST. JAMES, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) – It’s a miracle on Long Island.
Dave McKell, 83, of Huntington Station, who has played Santa Claus at the county-run St. James General Store for the past nine years, was let go because of Suffolk County budget cuts.
WCBS 880′s Sophia Hall on the call that saved Christmas
Officials claimed there wasn’t enough money in the budget to pay McKell $660 a year to dress up as Santa.
“Mr. [Steve] Levy decided not to fund the Santa because he’s doing big cutbacks,” McKell told 1010 WINS’ Mona Rivera.
He was among 750 workers being laid off county-wide to close a $135 million budget gap.
On Friday, McKell got the call telling him not to put his Santa suit away just yet.
“I don’t think it’s about me, it’s about my kids and all the kids across the county who just love visiting with Santa,” Bellone told 1010 WINS. “It’s a different experience going to see a mall Santa versus coming to this great store — it’s the oldest, continuously operating general store in the country. It’s just a great family tradition.”
McKell, who has six children and nine grandchildren, says his Santa job is priceless.
“We give out free candy canes, the kids come and they bring their own Christmas lists and I save them,” McKell said.
He says the children keep coming back each year.
“It’s a wonder to see their eyes light up,” McKell said. “The children that come there are very happy to see Santa.”
The St. James General store was built in 1857 and is on the National Register of Historic Places. The county operates it as a museum.
Bellone’s offer did not go unnoticed by his opponent in the race for country executive, Angie Carpenter.
In a statment, the Carpenter campaign spokesperson called the Santa save a “cheap campaign stunt” adding that “to many Babylon residents Steve Bellone is truly the Grinch who stole Christmas.”
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