Mount Dora’s Parks and Recreation Santa Switchboard

Santa's Switchboard - Santa and his helpers call local boys and girls during the holiday season (from Mount Dora Parks and Rec)

Cody has been nice this year. He had to think about it for a second, maybe there had been a few minor childish indiscretions in his little 8 year-old life.

But he was pretty sure that he was nice enough to get a Disney Infinity 3.0 for Christmas. He had been “student of the month” once this year. Understandably, he was a little shy, he was, after all, talking to Santa Claus. Santa had a few suggestions for Cody, like maybe quarrelling a bit less with his big sister, and walking his dog more often. Cody promised to be the best little boy he could be. Santa was being paged by his Chief Elf “Blinky’ to head back out to the workshop, so he said goodnight to Cody and gave him a hearty HO, HO, HO before hanging up the phone.

Santa leaned back in his chair and had another chocolate covered pretzel. He set aside Cody’s application and moved on to Nolan, age 4. Santa in this case is played by Knute and his Santa voice is absolutely pitch perfect. Knute, formerly specialized in doing radio commercials. The scenario played out again and again as Santa Knute patiently worked through stacks of applications submitted by area parents who wanted their children to get some phone time with the Man in the sleigh. The applications were filled with great clues about the kids, like pet’s names, accomplishments (student of the month), and challenges they happened to be struggling with. Armed with these details, the calls are amazingly interactive for the kids.

Welcome to Santa’s Switchboard, the work of the Mount Dora Parks and Recreation Department. Now in its fourth year, this public service draws volunteers who want to spread cheer and fun to kids during the holiday season. Headed up by Jennifer Schwarz, the team of volunteers sifts through the 225 applications they received this year, some with three of four kids to talk to in a single call. Tonight, there are four Santas – each with a switchboard operator who dials the call and tells the excited kids that Santa would like to speak with them.

Roy Hughes, Mount Dora’s Director of Parks and Recreation, brought the idea with him to ‘Someplace Special’ from Virginia, where it had been extremely successful. From 6:00-8:00 p.m. over two nights, the volunteers bring a little holiday magic to New York, Pennsylvania, California as well as Mount Dora. There are a lot of grandparents in town and the idea has caught on to the extent that Mount Dora’s Santa Switchboard is now reaching out all over the country.

Playing Santa is no easy task. Channeling your inner bowl full of jelly and trying not to end up sounding like the Green Giant commercials is harder than you may think. No one wants to get called out by a second grader, so I politely declined the offer to try my hand at it.

If you are interested in participating in this event next year, or any of the Mount Dora Parks and Recreation events, you may contact them at 352/735-7183.

Joe Runnels, Writer (