Santa’s 217th lifetime donation


SPRINGFIELD — Ginny Coffman did a good deed by donating at the Dec. 12 Maiden Lane Church of God blood drive because there is a critical need for her type O-negative blood, not because Santa Claus was watching.

“I never suspected I’d see Santa and Mrs. Claus here tonight,” said Coffman as she looked at the two jolly elves donating in the beds facing her.

Springfield blood donor and professional Santa, John Fleeger, first donated in his full Santa outfit at the December 2020 Maiden Lane monthly blood drive. He returned this year to make his 217th lifetime donation and brought along his Springfield Air National Guard colleague, fellow donor, and “elf” assistant Patricia Campbell Yeary.

Yeary made her 53rd lifetime donation, then made the rounds with Fleeger visiting donors and handing out candy canes.

Gift giving abounded at the blood drive with 80 donors, including 15 platelet and plasma donors. It came at important time, as Community Blood Center faces a critical need for types O and B negative blood as the challenging holiday period approaches.

When Fleeger donated as Santa in 2020, he wore a face mask and did his best to stoke Christmas spirit during a season when many of his usual public appearances had been cancelled. This season the Santa business is booming. He made special plans for the blood drive and invited Yeary.

Fleeger and Yeary have both retired after serving 25 years together in the Springfield Air National Guard. Every holiday season Yeary would help collect and deliver gifts to underprivileged children, but that would always be in uniform.

“He said, ‘Santa’s going to show up, could you be my elf? I said, ‘I’m going to have to get a costume,’” said Yeary. “I googled ‘Santa helper elf costume.’”

The result was a green tunic and cap, and she added red-striped leggings and boots.

“I’ve been coming here for years, and I’ve never seen Santa and Mrs. Clause,” said Springfield donor Beth Scott as she received a visit and a candy cane from the jolly pair.

Fleeger said the “Santa season” started early this year with his first appearance as a baseball Santa at an October charity tournament. It snowballed from there, to the Parks & Recs Yuletide Celebration, then to the popular “Breakfast with Santa” at Medway Church.

“It was a blur,” he said. “There were so many kids, I could only spend 30 to 45 seconds with each one and a picture.”

He values the time he gets charming the children, who he calls, “the littles.” He’s a professional Santa but donates back any payment he receives. The chance to be Santa with donors has a special place in his heart.

“When I lost my job, I went to work at the base,” said Fleeger. “I was working in the chaplains program. That year we went out to take care of about 53 families. Somehow, I got tapped to be Santa and that’s how the whole thing started.”

“We went to the local women’s shelter for their Christmas party and I was humbled pretty quickly. I said to myself, ‘You don’t have that bad.’ My mission became when I get a chance to give, I’ve got to step up,” continued Fleeger.

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