FORT WORTH -- It's the time of the year when Santa needs a little help in a big way, and that's where Don Shelton comes in.
For the last 13 years, the 69-year-old former television executive has donned a bright red suit and grabbed his toy bag as a substitute for St. Nick.
Shelton isn't the Santa seen at malls or shopping centers, but he is the big guy at numerous North Texas charity galas, Christmas tree lightings and private parties.
And he's just as giving as the man from the North Pole.
Each year, Shelton has donated his earnings from being Santa to charities, mostly the Salvation Army Angel Tree. One year, the Fort Worth resident collected about $150,000 in donations.
"The best thing about all this, it's the kids," Shelton said. "It's also a good feeling when I go to nursing homes and see the residents get perked up when I walk in as Santa."
Born and raised in Shawnee, Okla., Shelton moved to Tarrant County several years ago and worked as a television executive. The red suit job just happened.
"I was at a television convention in Vegas with a suit and tie on when someone wanted to take a picture of me," he said. "I looked the part."
That was the springboard for his life as Santa. And it's been a holiday role that he hasn't needed much makeup to play.
Shelton has a bright white beard, stands about 5 foot 11 and weighs about 211 pounds. He does put on a fat suit to add a little weight.
He has a red toy bag, but it's filled with white gloves. In a big crowd of kids, he changes gloves often to prevent flu or colds.
The rosy cheeks are real.
"Everywhere I go now, someone points me out," Shelton said. "When I go to the grocery store, I wear jeans and a red shirt."
When he's dressed as Santa and on his way to an event, he tries to stay in his vehicle.
"If I ever stop and pull off the highway, it could create quite a scene," he said. "When I'm driving down the highway in my red suit and someone looks at me, I try to stare straight ahead because I don't want to create a traffic problem."
And what about a Mrs. Claus? Well, there is JoAnn Shelton, Don Shelton's wife, who is Santa's seamstress.
"I've probably made about five to six suits for him," she said. "It takes about two weeks to make one. I've had to make that many because you can't take it to the cleaners because of the fur."
The suit definitely gets a workout.
Last year, Shelton subbed for Santa at 130 events; this month, he has about 80 appearances scheduled.
But the big guy keeps his holiday spirit even with a hectic schedule.
"He has just been great with the kids and the adults," said Tara Janszen, promotions manager at Texas Motor Speedway, who has worked with Shelton the last three years. "He's always been warm and kind, a pleasure to work with every year."
Santa said that on a few occasions, his job does become difficult.
"When a kid sits on my lap and asks all he or she wants for Christmas is for their mom and dad to stop fighting, that's hard," he said.
Shelton said he isn't sure how long he'll be Santa.
"Who knows?" Shelton said. "But Santa is forever."
Domingo Ramirez Jr., 817-390-7763