Santa Claus left his sleigh in the North Pole and found himself a little out of his element on a balmy Central Texas Saturday, but it was all for a good cause.

Santa, otherwise known as John Valentine, read books to children and listened to their Christmas wishes at Operation Phantom Support’s Touch of Christmas Bazaar in Harker Heights on Saturday and Sunday. Grown-ups shopped for early Christmas presents or watched football in the Moose Club during the weekend-long event.

Linda Valentine, operations manager for Operation Phantom Support and honorable Mrs. Claus as John Valentine’s better half, said she was impressed that so many of the 27 vendors also participated last year, which was the first year for the event.

“It’s a great gathering of people who share the vision of Operation Phantom Support and want us to grow and help people,” Valentine said. “The money we raise goes right back into our programs.”

Operation Phantom Support has numerous programs to assist veterans in the Fort Hood area.

One woman brought her young sons to meet Santa.

“It’s our first year to come, and I’m seeing a lot of different things for kids to do,” said Krystina Armes. “Everyone should know about this.”

Valentine said many vendors are talented artisans.

“It’s wonderful to re-connect with people you admire, people with the talent to create,” she said.

One vendor, Sue-Jung Smith of KSJ Designs, was selling her jewelry.

“It’s been steady,” she said. “It’s great weather for people to get out of the house.”

One mom was watching her two young sons at the petting zoo. Their candy suckers were a gift from Santa.

“We’re enjoying getting into the Christmas spirit,” said Nicole Gadsby. “They really wanted to meet Santa,” she said. “They hopped right on his lap and told him what they wanted.”

Valentine said she was thankful the universe set aside two beautiful days for the event.

“This wonderful group of people makes for a wonderful day,” she said.

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