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Kids enjoy an early breakfast with Santa

By CHUCK BALLARO - | Jul 19, 2021

Georgia Stemann, 7, sits with Santa during Breakfast with Santa at the Shell Factory on Sunday. Chuck Ballaro

Every year about this time, Santa Claus pays a special visit to Southwest Florida.

On Sunday, Santa made his fourth and final visit to the Shell Factory, where they held their annual Breakfast with Santa at the Southern Grill.

More than 100 people came for pancakes and to meet the jolly old elf. Most kids got a photo op with him, while others already knew what they wanted under the tree.

Anne Sheridan, general manager of the Shell Factory, said after a nearly lost year, this 12th annual Christmas in July event has been one of the best ever, as families have been unleashed from COVID restrictions.

“It’s a big difference from last year. We’re happy, the people are happy and excited and the kids are dressed up in their Christmas best,” Sheridan said. “It’s so adorable to see.”

Christmas in July runs until the end of the month, with special offerings on certain collectibles in the Holiday House at a 20 percent discount and Christmas music all month long.

Everyone received a gift and a candy cane from Santa, and some of the animals from the Nature Park stopped over for a visit, including a lizard and a sloth, the latter of which was part of a raffle where the winner got an encounter with it.

For Santa, it was time to double-check his list, and overall, he found nearly all the kids have been good so far this year.

“I want them to know Santa is looking all year long, and right now, with COVID, it’s great for Santa to come out, see everyone and let everyone know there is a Christmas, there is a Santa Claus and he loves everybody and we’ll see you on Christmas,” Santa said.

Following breakfast, Santa made one last trip to the Holiday House to see more children and listen to what they want for Christmas.

This far away from the big holiday, tastes can change in a hurry, especially with the younger kids. Caleb Schaffer and his twin brother, Bryden, 6, had already made up their minds.

“I want Star Wars Legos and coloring book and Mario toys,” Caleb said and Bryden pretty much repeated. “Santa was nice and it was such a surprise. I didn’t know he was going to be here.”

Neither Caleb or Bryden were very big fans of pancakes, although they liked the whipped cream and sprinkles on them, they said.

The best part of the event is, unlike last year where Santa had to keep his distance from the kids, there were no such restrictions as many kids gave and got hugs from him.

At one point, Santa hugged a little girl and said “This is what Christmas is all about.”