Santa's Place is celebrating 25 years of bringing joy to Ararat's children and fundraising for the Royal Children's Hospital.
Santa's Place is an Ararat organisation that raises funds every year for the hospital through Easter and Christmas events.
Carl Forshaw has been at the centre of the organisation for the entire 25 year period, often donning the red suit or the big bunny ears himself.
It was several brushes with children in sad or tragic circumstances that fuelled his lasting drive to raise funds for the hospital.
"When I was 19 years of age at St Kilda I was captain of the life saving club," he said.
"I witnessed a (little girl) drowning - it was terrible. Even today I close my eyes and see that little girl being pulled out."
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Then a friend invited Mr Forshaw to help out at camps for terminally ill children. He went to the Royal Children's Hospital first, where he met many youngsters with poor prognoses.
"One girl I spoke to was 14-years-old. I asked her 'are you going on the camp?' She said 'no, I won't live for the next camp'," Mr Forshaw said.
"She told me they had different songs they used to like. One of the special ones was 'You are my special angel.' It was a bit sad.
"Each year at Good Friday or around certain times when I'm with choirs and that, I sing it and dedicate it to all the boys and girls that have passed away over the years.
"I said I can't go to camps and see them. But I said I'll do something. I'll raise money, I'll be a bear, I'll be a clown, I'll be anything."
Santa's Place was born.
There were two families who originally started up Santa's Place along with Mr Forshaw but they eventually "gave it away".
However, Mr Forshaw has continuously served the cause over the past 25 years and still puts on the red suit each Christmas.
"It's just something I've kept going," he said.
Since it began, Santa's Place has evolved to include visits from the Easter Bunny at Easter time, and about half a dozen helpers and volunteers also work tirelessly when Easter and Christmas time approach.
"We now do a raffle for the kids at Christmas and at Easter the Easter Bunny goes up outside the Bendigo Bank with the barbecue, which the Ararat Y's Men run, and we raise money by shaking tins," Mr Forshaw said.
"What money we make goes in with the Christmas fundraising.
"At Easter Murray Woods goes down to Green Hill Lake as Mickey Mouse, and the Easter Bunny stays up this end. We've all got our little spots and we all do it for the kids."
But it hasn't all been bowls full of jelly and halls decked with holly. The job has brought some difficult times with it.
"A little boy, seven years old, with one leg and full of cancer visited (another volunteer who was playing Santa)," Mr Forshaw said.
"His parents just wanted him to see Santa one last time ... he was in a wheelchair and it was hard for him, but that's what we cop sometimes."
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On another occasion a little girl who was recovering from severe burns came out to see Santa, who was being played by Mr Forshaw this time.
"All I could see was her eyes, nose and mouth - she had all those special bandages they have for burns," he said.
"I looked at her and even now it upsets you, because you say to them 'well, what would you like for Christmas?' And she just stands there and says 'anything, Santa', and that's when Santa shed a tear. It really got to me.
"But you've got to take it. You've got to know what to say."
It's stories like these that make it easy to understand what drives the Santa's Place volunteers to dress up and go tin rattling in the summer heat.
Last year the organisation raised $2600 for the Royal Children's Hospital and Mr Forshaw expects the figure will be higher this year.
"So far we've sold a lot of tickets and we did a trivia night this year and made $490," he said.
"We haven't done that before."
Santa Claus will be visiting the following places in Ararat across the next several days:
Wednesday December 18
Thursday December 19
Friday December 20
Saturday December 21
Monday December 23
Tuesday December 24 (Christmas Eve)
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