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Santa’s Manteca hut falling apart

Move afoot to raise $3,000 to replace aging structure

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Santa’s Manteca hut falling apart

Santa waits for the next family in his downtown hut that is riddled with dry rot.

HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin/

POSTED December 16, 2013 12:09 a.m.

Santa’s hut could use a little bit of work.

Well, a lot of work actually.

While the man in the red suit – also known as Ben Jetton – sat in his chair in the red hut at the corner of Main Street and Yosemite Avenue in downtown Manteca, the wear-and-tear on the 80-year-old structure was evident all around him.

The bottom corner of the door showed extensive rot. Shingles on the roof were missing. And a hodge-podge looking group of cinder blocks helped keep the entire building level.

And while Jetton has been able to make it work for the better part of a decade, one Manteca mom wants to do something about it.

Last week Jennifer Munoz took her kids down for their annual picture with Santa Claus and was horrified at the state of disrepair that the building had fallen into.

But she didn’t call up the Downtown Merchants Association – the organization that helps supplement the cost having Santa available – and complain. She didn’t call the city to talk about some of the things that concerned her.

Instead, she took the modern tech route and set out to do something about it – starting a crowdfunding Internet page where people can make donations that will allow for the quaint hut to be completely rebuilt over the course of the next year and unveiled at next year’s Holiday Parade.

“It’s tradition. It’s one of those things – believing in Santa Claus is a big part of the Christmas season,” Munoz said, holding back tears. “This man puts his heart into it every year, and every Christmas when I take my kids down there I myself feel like a little kid again.

“They charge $5 for a picture but if you don’t have $5 you can use your own camera to take a picture. That would never happen at the mall or somewhere else. It’s something that sets him apart.”

Munoz is hoping that through the webpage set up on she’ll be able to raise $3,000 and enough awareness to get the community involved in building a new Santa house on a trailer that Jetton already has lined up.

Those looking to donate can go to the website and search for “Ben Jetton.” The page will come up in the results, and clicking on it will take you to Munoz’ breakdown about why she’s doing what she’s doing and how people can get involved.

Her husband, she said, has already pledged his time to help construct whatever is necessary. Additional help would only move the project along.

On Sunday afternoon Jetton was busy doing what it is that he does – belting out the deep, belly laugh that the world has come to expect from Santa Claus and making children smile.

Those that don’t – the criers – still end up getting their picture taken thanks to a sneaky move that he’s been pulling off for years. Without the kids even knowing it he comes up behind them and poses.

Installing a false wall, or a trap door, he said, would make getting in-and-out to pull off his trademark move that much easier.

And the dwelling, as it stands now, is not handicap accessible – the stairs out front prevent children in wheelchairs from being able to make their way up to tell the red-suited Jetton what it is that they want for Christmas.

The overhaul, he said, would take care of that.

“We want to be able to provide this service to all kids, and the way it’s setup right now that’s not the case,” he said. “When I learned that she (Munoz) was doing what she’s doing I was ecstatic. It means a lot that the community cares and somebody is willing to organize something like that.”

Santa is downtown daily through Christmas Eve from 1 to 5 p.m.

To make a donation, or to learn more about Munoz’ effort, visit and search for Ben Jetton. Click on the page that pops up in the results.

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