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Selfies with Santa returns to Kemp farm

Lee Kemp has long played Santa at the malls but his mission during COVID is to thrill children at the farm
MVT Selfies with Santa
Selfies with Santa is returning for an encore this year at the Kemp farm along the west side Highway 54 across from the driving range. The photo with Santa initiative is also a fundraiser to purchase special stuffies for children in hospital, as well as those in financially challenged families. File photo/MVP Staff

INNISFAIL – For many years it was never a chore for Lee Kemp to play the role of Santa Claus during the holiday season.

It was a labour of love doing it at City of Red Deer malls, but when COVID hit in 2020 the member of the famed Innisfail and area farm family was forced to change the course of Santa’s reindeer.

Malls were no longer hiring anyone to play the role of Santa. He knew the kids would miss out. That was not acceptable for the 42-year-old farmer.

He created his own Social Santa set-up called Selfies with Santa on the family farm; on the west side of Highway 54 across from the driving range next to the Innisfail Golf Club.

“I do this for the kids. I don’t do this for the money. When I was told I didn’t have a job I sat down with my parents and the rest of my family and said, ‘I need to do this,” said Kemp.

“I came up with a plan and what you saw last year was the fruits of my plan.”

That plan included the construction of an impressive outdoor display adorned with huge bales of hay in the middle of a Kemp family farm field. It was fun, and safe for anyone concerned with the pandemic.

With COVID still a factor a year later for mall businesses that are compelled to follow strict provincial protocols, Kemp decided his Selfies with Santa initiative will go again for Christmas in 2021.

His homemade Selfies with Santa display, constructed with the help of his two kids over a period of two to three days, will be open in time for Santa’s beloved work.

“If a three-year-old comes running up to me and wants to sit on my lap and talk to me for 10 minutes that’s what Santa is,” said Kemp. “The kids that want to believe and want to see Santa don’t understand the rest of the stuff that is going on in the world.

“I am fully vaccinated. I’ve had both shots. I’ve had my flu shot, same as I’ve had every year for 20 years.”

A huge part of Kemp’s plan is to raise money that will help put smiles on the faces of children who may be struggling, either through the tough times brought on by the pandemic or by being in the hospital.

Kemp is asking for a $20 donation for each Selfie with Santa photograph. The money will go towards the purchase of special stuffed animals for kids. He has a deal to purchase custom made stuffed critters, complete with hearts and birth certificates, from The Bear House in Red Deer to give to excited children at Christmas time.

Last year his Selfies with Santa initiative raised about $5,000, enough for dozens and dozens of special critter stuffies he brought to the Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre for struggling children on Christmas Eve.

Earlier this month, Lee and his 18-year-old daughter Hannah donated many more to the Innisfail Christmas Bureau that were left over from last year.

This year’s Selfies for Santa along Highway 54 will open on Thursday, Dec. 2, and every Thursday and Friday until Christmas from 4 to 8 p.m. The display will also be open Saturdays and Sundays until Christmas from 2 to 8 p.m.

From Dec. 21 to 23, Selfies with Santa will welcome children and adults from 4 to 8 p.m. Anyone needing directions can just type in Selfies with Santa into Google Maps.

In the meantime, Kemp expects many people will drop by. He said last year Santa lovers came from as far away as north of Edmonton, and as far south as Strathmore.

“They said they wanted to see an in-person Santa,” said Kemp, who estimates his Selfies with Santa display attracted between 400 to 500 visitors. “It’s really important I do this for the kids.”

Johnnie Bachusky

About the Author: Johnnie Bachusky

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