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A tale of two Santas: Downtown vs Bass Pro

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A tale of two Santas: Downtown vs Bass Pro

John Short watches as his twin grandsons Ethan and Ravi make their way up the steps to Santa’s Hut in downtown Manteca.

HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin


POSTED December 18, 2013 11:38 p.m.

Santa Claus talking to Santa Claus.

It might have been a Twilight Zone moment when Downtown Manteca Santa Ben Jetton chatted up – and even took a picture with – friend and Bass Pro Shops Santa “Fred” for a few moments on Monday afternoon.

But one thing was clear – these Santas are from different sides of the tracks.

“Fred” goes to work inside of a store that draws people just to look at it. Every  December Bass Pro turns one particular corner into a winter wonderland that is a sight to behold. It’s what you’d expect from a place that has trophy stream trout on display next to a massive brown bear and a waterfall-laden aquarium that wraps around a stairway.

Jetton has a hut. And it’s not a very nice one anymore. Cinder blocks and pieces of wood help keep it level during his limited run at the corner of Main Street and Yosemite. The structure creaks and moans. And God forbid it actually rains – a series of patchwork fixes have been implemented where shingles have gotten old and rustic and decided that they don’t be a part of the roof anymore.

That’s not good enough for Jennifer Munoz.

On Monday the local mother stood outside of Jetton’s temporary downtown residence and chatted with him about all kinds of things. They talked about family and his health (he wasn’t able to assume his duties as Santa last year because of an unspecified illness) and their shared love for Christmas.

They talked about Santa’s other Santa friends and the close-knit community that they share.

And they talked about Munoz’ effort to raise $3,000 to overhaul the 50-plus year old trailer that might not survive another move.

She took it upon herself last weekend to use the crowdfunding website Give Forward to start a page where people could go online and donate money that would finance the construction costs that she thought would be enough for a new house.

Naturally, it would have all of the bells and whistles.

“It’s just awesome that people are willing to donate their time and their money into making this happen,” she said. “It says that the community cares. I got a donation from somebody in Michigan who just stumbled across it and said that even though they’ve never been here, they recognized the Christmas spirit behind it.

“I think that’s what this is all about. It’s not the season of ‘give me, give me give me.’ It’s the season of ‘what I can do to help others’ and I hope that’s something that people are able to take away from this.”

But Jetton’s bells and whistles aren’t the flashy digs you might be thinking of.

First, he’d like to have some sort of wheelchair ramp or lift so that children with disabilities can pose for their picture as well. Right now, the tight space and the front steps make it nearly impossible for them to come inside without being carried, and having him come down from his storied perch isn’t quite the same.

He also has plans to build a false wall so he can sneak out the side and come behind the kids that are less than enthused about sitting on the lap of a big, burly man they’ve never seen before. It’s kind of his go-to move – he pops up in the background so that the family still gets their picture.

The website will run through the end of January, but less than three days after Munoz posted it she generated more than $300 – 10 percent of her goal.

Hopefully, she said, the exposure will only keep pushing that number up.

“It means a lot to me,” she said. “I know it means a lot to other people too.”

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

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