Santa doles out gifts to Mia Joanis and Josie Rolph, as Mia’s mom, Nichole Curnutt-Joanis, looks on.
Santa doles out gifts to Mia Joanis and Josie Rolph, as Mia’s mom, Nichole Curnutt-Joanis, looks on.

There is nothing like seeing the excitement in a child’s eyes as they come face to face with Santa Claus — just ask the firefighters from Snohomish County Fire District 26 in Gold Bar that volunteered their time for this year’s Ho Ho Run.

Organized by the Gold Bar Firefighters Association, the 2016 Ho Ho Run served 26 Gold Bar families on Saturday, Dec. 24. Brian Kendall organizes the holiday celebration each year, beginning the sign-up process roughly a month before the event.

Families that wish to have Santa Claus stop by their homes on Christmas Eve contact the department and provide their address, along with the names and ages of their kids.

If they would like Santa to present their child with a Christmas gift during the visit, they arrange to stash a gift outside their home, letting firefighters know where it will be.

As the fire engine pulls up to the house, firefighters retrieve the gift and pass it to Santa, who knocks on the door and presents it to the child. 

This year two separate groups were formed, each planning to visit 13 homes. Gold Bar residents Chris Wright and Jonny Edwards served as Santa Claus. When one group lagged behind because of transportation challenges, the other group picked up a few extra homes at the end of their run, so the volunteers would be done on time.

They promised each Santa Claus that the routes would be complete in roughly two hours, Kendall said.

“These Santas are our heroes,” he said.

Wright has served as Santa for eight years, Edwards for two. 

“The opportunity came up last year. There was a Santa that couldn’t make it at the last minute, and I was asked to do it,” Edwards said. “I had a great time, and so I decided to do it again this year.”

Wright said he continues to volunteer year after year out of sheer enjoyment for the event. It’s also a touch of nostalgia, he said, as he has had the opportunity on more than one occasion to deliver gifts to kids living at the Stevens Pass Motel. Wright said seeing those kids is like looking back at his own childhood, as he used to be the kid living in the local motel.

It’s been a full-circle opportunity to bring some happiness to those kids, he said.

Not all the homes had hidden gifts. Several families simply opted for a visit from Santa Claus, who passed out candy canes and paused for photos as he worked to spread holiday cheer. And when the fire engine caught the attention of kids in neighboring homes, Santa didn’t hesitate to grab some extra candy canes and visit them too.

It was firefighter Matt Baller’s first year volunteering during the event. He had no qualms about forfeiting time with his family to escort Santa around the city — especially since his mother’s house was one of their stops. It’s fun to watch little kids who still believe in Santa Claus come alive when they see him, and awesome to get the opportunity to help prolong that belief, Baller said.

“I just think it’s a great opportunity to be able to give them some joy,” he said.

A 2015 Sultan High School graduate, Baller has been in the fire service for roughly a year.

“It’s awesome. It’s a great job,” Baller said. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

Firefighter Schuyler Murphy has been participating in the Ho Ho Run since 2009.

“I’ve been doing this ever since I started here,” Murphy said. “I’ve done it every single year. I actually got hired in New Mexico last year, and I flew up to do this.”

Murphy worked in New Mexico for roughly a year before returning to the Sky Valley. He works for both Snohomish County Fire District 26 and Snohomish County Fire District 5 in Sultan.

For more information about Snohomish County Fire District 26, visit snofire26.org.