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Santa’s sleigh raises money for mission work

Mitch Mitchell drives his "sleigh" through the streets of Greenville, S.C., to raise money for church missions. He built the sleigh from an old Chevy Astro Van purchased on eBay. UMNS photos by Heidi Robinson.

By Heidi Robinson*
Dec. 17, 2007 | GREENVILLE, S.C. (UMNS)

Dressed in a Santa suit, Mitch Mitchell hops into his makeshift "sleigh" to treat kids of all ages to open-air rides along the streets of Greenville.

For a mere $5, the riders listen to Christmas carols and take a spin in a souped-up Chevrolet Astro Van driven by the jolly old elf.

Mitchell considers himself a Santa's helper, giving all proceeds of his Santa's Sleigh service to support mission trips led by Buncombe Street United Methodist Church, where he is a maintenance worker.

"Climb aboard," Mitchell tells a cluster of families waiting for their turn.

"We’ve been waiting all night!" squeals a curly-headed 7-year-old.

Giving new meaning to the phrase "conversion van," Mitchell bought the Chevy van on eBay, removed the top and reworked the interior to transform the vehicle into a sleigh on wheels.

Beginning this year, he has driven the 15-passenger sleigh every evening during Advent except for Sundays.

"People told me I was out of mind to try to make this sleigh, but I’ve always been able to do things with my hands," he said. "When I wake up, I thank the Lord above for the talent he gave me to use my hands. And it is a pleasure to be able to use them to help others."

Mitchell bears a striking resemblance to the jolly old elf from the North Pole.

Mitchell, 65, got the idea of raising money for missions after helping build homes for victims of Hurricane Katrina in the Gulf Coast and for families in rural villages of Mexico.

"We all have skills we can give to God and be blessed," said the Rev. Jerry Hill, minister of missions at the Buncombe church. He said Mitchell reminds people in the church to ask themselves how they can give back and reach out to the community.

"And the ripples, you don’t know where they go," said Hill. "They don’t really stop."

For Mitchell, the ripples include the wide-eyed look on children's faces as he takes them for sleigh rides. "I get an unexplainable joy out of being a part of that," he said. "It doesn’t matter whether they’re young or old. They all enjoy Santa."

*Robin is a freelance writer and producer in Winston-Salem, N.C.

News media contact: Fran Coode Walsh, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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