'Year-Round' Santa Hits Tough Times

In the 1947 movie "Miracle on 34th Street," Kris Kringle famously says "Christmas isn't just a day, it's a frame of mind." In the latest Assignment America segment, CBS News correspondent Steve Hartman introduces us to a modern-day Kris Kringle who plays Santa Claus every day of the year.

About 4,000 miles south of the North Pole, in Eastern Tennessee, we found the closest thing to I've ever seen to Santa Claus. Not in looks, but in spirit and inventory.

Ronnie Greene, 60, has everything a kid could ever want - including Teddy bears, music players and soap box cars. He also has everything a kid would never want - socks.

Obviously, here Christmas isn't just for kids. Here, Christmas isn't even just for Christmas. In fact, they call Ronnie the "Year-Round" Santa.

Greene has been serving the needy in his town of Mascot, Tenn., and the surrounding Appalachian communities for 26 years. He's got the help of a handful of dedicated volunteers, donations of goods and services, fundraisers to buy food, and a lot of his own money to keep the whole operation rolling.

"These are the poorest of the poor," Greene said.

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At one point or another, he's helped so many people - that you can pretty much go up to any house in the neighborhood and find someone who has benefitted from his generosity.

"All they've had to do is ask or if somebody tells us they needed help we've seen that they got help," Greene said.

A truck driver by trade, Greene made this his full-time mission after he became disabled in a work accident. Since then, his friend Brazo says all he's done is give as only a Santa could.

Brazo said Greene's spent, "Everything he's ever made. Check his bank account - there's nothing in it."

It's actually worse than that. Greene said he's in debt, "About $75,000. We may have to sell this place we've got so many doctor bills."

His wife Kathy is suffering from a liver illness. She spent the last year in and out of hospitals and nursing homes and is now under hospice care.

"You've got to start eating or you're fading away," he told his wife.

If there was ever a reason to not celebrate a holiday - this would be it. If there was ever a time for apathy and despair, - it would be now. And yet Ronnie and Kathy refuse.

"We can still help some people," Kathy said.

Resolute as ever, Ronnie is still taking wishes, and still delivering to people now more fortunate than he is.

"If I had it to do over again I'd give it all way again," Greene said.

How one man can be that selfless? It's unbelievable.

Brazo says it only makes sense to believe.

"There is a Santa Claus," Brazo said. "There really is a Santa Claus."

Greene said he'd give away anything people sent him. All he'll let you do is give to his charity.

Tax-deductible donations can be sent to "Year Round Santa", 1821 Santa Claus Lane, Mascot, TN, 37806

  • Steve Hartman

    Steve Hartman has been a CBS News correspondent since 1998, having served as a part-time correspondent for the previous two years.