Every morning and afternoon, Gary Holmes keeps a watchful eye on 700 students while directing traffic outside Nature Ridge Elementary School in Bartlett.
On Friday morning, the Bartlett resident decided to throw some holiday cheer into the mix.
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Dressed as Santa, Holmes greeted the kindergartners through sixth-graders and their parents as they arrived and departed from the school in cars and buses. He played the part well, asking the children what they wanted for Christmas and posing for pictures, said assistant principal Charlotte Coleman.
"The kids loved him. They were saying, 'Hello Santa!'" she said. "The parents were appreciative as well."
Holmes is the father of two boys who are currently attending the school, and a longtime member of the school's parent teacher organization. He started volunteering a few years ago when the school asked the PTO for help at a time when parents were fighting during the drop-off and pickup times.
"It was a right fit for my personality," Holmes said, adding that he has time to help each day because he is semiretired. "The reason I stay with it is because it's tangible help I can see every day."
Now recognizable and well-liked by most kids and parents, Holmes was the recipient of many holiday gifts and cards Friday.
"I like that he has a great attitude," Coleman said. "He's always here for the parents and there for the students to make sure they're safe."
Holmes said he enjoyed wearing the red suit because he's a kid at heart who is willing to do something goofy if it makes someone smile or laugh.
"It just kind of brings a fun atmosphere, especially because of the things that are going on in schools of late," he said. "We want to let them know it's still the holiday season and there still is a Santa Claus."