Originally created 12/26/96

Christmas Stories - Stocking stuffers from around the country

The spirit of Christmas could be seen all over the United States Wednesday. Here's a roundup of the days' Christmas tales.

PAWTUCKET, R.I. (AP) - Santa Claus is a highway foreman. Really.

After years of quips about his fluffy white beard, apple-red cheeks and doughy figure, public works employee Virgil Almeida decided earlier this year to officially embrace the image. He paid $25 in Probate Court to change his name to Santa Claus Almeida.

So this Christmas, when doubting kids pointed and stared as he showed up in Santa costume, Almeida had proof.

"I show them my driver's license and kids ask, `Where did you get that fake ID?' and I tell them it's not fake," the 65-year-old said with a smile. "They ask, `Why do you need a license to drive a sleigh?' I say, `I don't need it for that. I need it to drive a car."'

Not just any car. He had his station wagon painted red, with reindeer and toys on each side, and got a license plate reading "SANTA-C." His wife, Loretta Perry, sewed him four Santa suits.

He expected to make more than 60 appearances in costume this holiday season. He charges a fee, but gives the money to charity.

Along with the legal name change, nature helped his transformation. His hair and beard turned white about seven years ago.

And a hearty appetite filled his 5-foot-7-inch frame with 225 pounds.

"Santa loves pancakes," he said. "I can put away 10 pancakes at a time."

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THERMOPOLIS, Wyo. (AP) - The computer era - or in this case computer error - turned Florence Sinclair's annual Christmas ham into a community affair.

Each year, Sinclair's children ship her a ham.

But this year, a United Parcel Service driver came knocking at her door with 33 hams.

"Well, I panicked," Ms. Sinclair said. "What am I going to do with 33 hams?"

She had UPS take them back, and called HoneyBaked Ham Co. of Holland, Ohio. HoneyBaked said it didn't want the hams back, and she would have to take all of them or none.

Someone suggested she donate the hams to the Worland Food Bank, but that agency couldn't handle that much perishable food.

Then Ms. Sinclair thought of senior centers in Thermopolis and Worland, and recruited neighbors and friends to fetch the hams from UPS and deliver them.

"Her generosity should be recognized," said Shirley Longwell of the Thermopolis Senior Center. "I think her thinking of the senior center at this time of year was especially nice."

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LONG BEACH, Calif. (AP) - Lucy Kunken called police after someone stole her Christmas lights. But the officers didn't just file her report and forget it.

The next day, two policemen showed up on her doorstep with two replacement strings of Christmas lights.

"I couldn't believe it when they gave the lights to me," Kunken said of officers Patrick O'Dowd and Timothy Van Coutren. "I think they paid for them with their own money."

Neither O'Dowd nor Van Coutren were around the station Wednesday to talk about it, but Officer Norman Sanborn said he suspected the two men did dip into their own wallets for the lights.

"Every year officers go out of pocket for things that happen, that touch them, because they're human," he said. The two men "probably made a decision out of their own goodness and kindness."

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Jack Andrews became emotional as he looked at the thousands of people on the serving line at the annual free Christmas dinner started 54 years ago by his brother, Red.

"I look forward to it every year," Andrews said. "It just gives you a feeling that is hard to describe. When you see so many needy people getting what they wouldn't get otherwise, it's really a revelation."

Somewhere between 4,000 and 6,000 people - about half of them children - lined up Wednesday for the Red Andrews Christmas dinner, named for the former state representative who started the Christmas dinners - the first was for newsboys - back in 1942.

"It makes me feel happy. You get this Christmas feeling in your heart," said Sergio Carreon, a high school student who came with his parents and three brothers. "It's just wonderful."

At midday, the serving line was still growing.

"If we can have it without having to turn anybody away, it'll be fine," Jack Andrews said.


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