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Santa Claus, portrayed by Ray Collins, waves to children waiting in line to have photos taken after he arrived by sliding down the fire pole at Central Fire Station at the annual Breakfast With Santa on Saturday, Dec. 7, 2013. Hundreds of children were served breakfast, posed for photos with Santa, and created holiday cards or ornaments. (Truth Photo By Jennifer Shephard) (AP)

Peyton Schraw, 7, watches fire fighters prepare the food line as he waits to be the first in line to get breakfast at the annual Breakfast With Santa at Central Fire Station on Saturday, Dec. 7, 2013. Hundreds of children were served breakfast, posed for photos with Santa, created holiday cards or ornaments, and greeted large holiday characters. (Truth Photo By Jennifer Shephard) (AP)

Central Key Club member Logan Burke, right, passes out candy to Caleb Schoettler, 8, as she portrays an elf at Central Fire Station during the annual Breakfast With Santa Saturday, Dec. 7, 2013. Hundreds of children were served breakfast, posed for photos with Santa, and created holiday cards or ornaments. (Truth Photo By Jennifer Shephard) (AP)

Eight-year-old Aliyah Coleman holds very still as she gets a Christmas tree painted on her cheek at the annual Breakfast With Santa at Central Fire Station on Saturday, Dec. 7, 2013. Hundreds of children were served breakfast, posed for photos with Santa, and created holiday cards or ornaments. (Truth Photo By Jennifer Shephard) (AP)

Santa Claus, portrayed by Ray Collins, directs Peyton Schraw, 7, where to go after getting his photo taken at the annual Breakfast With Santa on Saturday, Dec. 7, 2013. Hundreds of children were served breakfast, posed for photos with Santa, created holiday cards or ornaments, and greeted large holiday characters. Mrs. Claus is seen at right is portrayed by Central Key Club member Lydia Michaels. (Truth Photo By Jennifer Shephard) (AP)

Seven-year-old Breah Gill tackles a stack of pancakes after arriving at the annual Breakfast With Santa at Central Fire Station on Saturday, Dec. 7, 2013. Hundreds of children were served breakfast, posed for photos with Santa, created holiday cards or ornaments, and greeted large holiday characters. (Truth Photo By Jennifer Shephard) (AP)

Brothers Carson, 4, right, and Nathan Gonzalez, 6, put the finishing touches on holiday cards they made at the annual Breakfast With Santa at Central Fire Station on Saturday, Dec. 7, 2013. Hundreds of children were served breakfast, posed for photos with Santa, and created holiday cards or ornaments. (Truth Photo By Jennifer Shephard) (AP)

Central Key Club member Joanna Dixon works at a face painting station at the annual Breakfast With Santa at Central Fire Station Saturday, Dec. 7, 2013. Hundreds of children were served breakfast, posed for photos with Santa, and created holiday cards or ornaments. (Truth Photo By Jennifer Shephard) (AP)

Santa Claus, portrayed by Ray Collins, waves as he arrives to the main floor of Central Fire Station after sliding down the fire pole at the annual Breakfast With Santa on Saturday, Dec. 7, 2013. Hundreds of children were served breakfast, posed for photos with Santa, and created holiday cards or ornaments. (Truth Photo By Jennifer Shephard) (AP)

Five-year-old Ema Garcia, center, watches as Central Key Club members fill their brushes with paint as they work a face-painting station at the annual Breakfast With Santa at Central Fire Station on Saturday, Dec. 7, 2013. Hundreds of children were served breakfast, posed for photos with Santa, and created holiday cards or ornaments. (Truth Photo By Jennifer Shephard) (AP)
‘Breakfast with Santa’ supports local kids but reaches far beyond one-day event

Posted on Dec. 7, 2013 at 12:00 a.m. | Updated on Dec. 7, 2013 at 3:23 p.m.

ELKHART — As the name might suggest, the “Breakfast with Santa” event is all about the kids.

The annual event, put on by the Elkhart Fire Department as part of the city’s Winterfest activities, is a chance for families to enjoy an all-you-can-eat breakfast as well as meet the man in the red suit.

Paul Womack, the man who has organized “Breakfast with Santa” for nine years, said the Saturday, Dec. 7, breakfast saw 1,560 in attendance.

That is a little less than the last few years, when about 2,000 people came to the breakfast. Womack said that’s likely due to the improved economy.

Besides the pancakes and sausage, children at the breakfast got a chance to take a photo with Santa himself. Each child also got to take home a gift bag containing a toy and candy.

There were also opportunities for arts and crafts and face painting.

Hats, gloves and even toothbrushes were available for children who needed them.

While the event is a fun time for families and their children, “Breakfast with Santa” is really serving a larger purpose, Womack said.

“They get a free meal; they get a toy with some candy in the bag. They get pictures with Santa,” he said.

“That’s why I do it, for the kids here.”

But “Breakfast with Santa” reaches even further into the community beyond the event at the fire station. The fire department uses the event as a benefit for local food pantries and other helpful organizations.

The cost of the meal was a nonperishable food item for children under 12 and $2 for any children over 12.

Womack said he wasn’t sure how much money the event raised, but estimated the breakfast brought in about $1,000 and many different food items.

“We get dumpsters from Himco, 96-gallon containers, and they’re full,” Womack said. “We get four of those and they’re full.”

The food items will be distributed among Faith Mission, the Salvation Army and Church Community Services.

All monetary donations are given to Child and Parent Services of Elkhart County and the pediatric oncology department of Memorial Hospital in South Bend.

But what has kept the event going for more than 20 years remains the opportunity to help children in Elkhart County during this special season.

“Years ago, you would get maybe 500 and now you’re getting over 1,500 kids,” Womack said. “For a lot of the kids in this area, this is the only Christmas they’re going to get.”