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Santa Claus makes last-minute stop in Homestead to ‘share Christmas spirit’

Santa Claus and the Grinch were at the Strong Survivor's Christmas event in Homestead.
Santa Claus and the Grinch were at the Strong Survivor's Christmas event in Homestead. (Courtesy of the Strong Survivor)

HOMESTEAD, Fla. – More than a decade ago, a woman took Daniel Todaro’s measurements to make him a Santa Claus suit. He was to wear it while doing service as a member of a global Catholic fraternal service order.

Todaro said he first wore it when a priest at The Our Lady of Charity National Shrine in Miami asked him to. Over the years, he has had photographers and others offer him jobs to wear the red suit, but he said he has always declined to do so because that wasn’t its purpose.

“It’s a seven-piece suit. It’s really special. I have never and will never use it for anything commercial,” Todaro said in Spanish. “It wasn’t entrusted to me for that. It’s to share the spirit of Christmas with those who need it.”

Todaro, 51, assumed he wasn’t going to be wearing the suit this year because of the coronavirus pandemic. But God had other plans, he said.

Santa Claus interacts with children in Homestead during the recent Strong Survivor's gift giveaway event. (Courtesy of the Strong Survivor)

Takira Brown, 21, founded her nonprofit, Strong Survivor, earlier this year with a vision to help support children in foster care as she once was. She said therapy to deal with her experience with abuse and neglect, and her teenage brother’s death led to the effort.

Brown had collected letters for Santa from about 15 kids and planned a “Polar Express” movie outing at the ShowBiz Cinemas and an outdoor gift-giving activity in Homestead. But fears of the new surge of coronavirus cases resulted in cancellations.

Brown received many toys from local donors. But even Santa Claus, a police officer from the Homestead Police Department, was unable to help with the gift-giving activity and he was looking for a replacement.

“I lost some hope ... We didn’t give up ... We took flyers to a neighborhood in Homestead where there is a lot of need,” Brown said.

She thought maybe if they offered the children safe transportation, the guardians wouldn’t feel at risk. A volunteer gave her a list of transportation companies so she could start cold calling to ask for help.

As fate would have it, Brown dialed Transit Sun School Transportation first. Johanna Morales, who is married to Todaro and co-owns the transportation company, answered Brown’s call.

“I heard her say her plans had fallen apart because of the pandemic. Everyone is having to adapt. I understood what she wanted to do and knew she needed help,” Morales said. “I heard it in her voice. I knew we had to be there. It was time for Daniel to be Santa again.”

Morales, 47, is a teacher. Her husband, Todaro, worked with 3D systems for a company that focused on airport design and engineering nationwide. The coronavirus pandemic cost him his job, so they co-founded the transportation company to cater to children.

“At the end of the day, none of the children needed transportation, so what we did was help her with all of the gifts,” Morales said. “We were outside. There were more than 60 kids. They were wearing face masks.

Brown had planned for 15 children, and dozens were arriving, but although she was nervous, she felt prepared.

“We had a lot of toys. The movie theater helped us with all of the 60 children,” Brown said. “Santa Claus was perfect. All of the elves were so perfect. I didn’t plan that and it was perfect.”

A woman told Brown, who is a college student, that she should be mayor of Homestead. Brown laughed, but Morales and Todaro said they believe in her ability to help others. Todaro said he was grateful to be able to wear his red suit again.

“I don’t have stage fright with the suit ... It was just really hot,” Todaro said in Spanish. “The suit is heavy and the beard is heavy ... It’s a responsibility to carry on with the tradition. It’s about service and sharing the Christmas spirit generously.”

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About the Author:

The Emmy Award-winning journalist joined the Local 10 News team in 2013. She wrote for the Miami Herald for more than 9 years and won a Green Eyeshade Award.