MONCTON – He’s not your run-of-the-mill jolly old elf, but Fernand Gautreau calls himself Santa.
“It’s my character, I like it, I like my soul, I like to make you happy.”
Gautreau has been living on the streets on and off in Moncton for about three years. He often sleeps on the streets and goes to the local soup kitchen for a hot meal. He says it’s been a hard life, battling alcoholism for decades.
So, every year around this time, he dresses up as Santa and roams around Moncton. He says it simply makes him feel better about his life.
“It does and other people that’s why I am doing it,” he said.
“I had so many kids say, ‘Mom, look – Santa is here!’ Even the old people, look and say ‘Santa is here.'”
He certainly bears a striking resemblance with his white beards and big bright eyes.
But this week, life was not so jolly for the 64-year-old.
While sleeping, huddled up in a public washroom, he says someone stole his beloved Santa suit.
He was devastated.
Down at the local shelter, word of the theft spread. Gautreau has his share of demons, but those who know him say he also has a big heart.
Aleisha MacPherson met Gautreau at the House of Nazareth homeless shelter. She heard the story about his suit.
A new suit, a new lease on life
So, she posted Fernand’s story online. What happened next has the makings of a Christmas miracle.
Claude St-Coeur and his wife Sharon saw the post and decided it was time to haul a Santa suit of their closet.
“I had put the suit away and said that maybe someday I can give it to somebody to put it to good use. Because there is a lot of good, good memories in here I tell you,” he said.
St-Coeur acted as Santa for the neighborhood kids for 21 years before he retired. After he heard Gautreau’s story, he knew exactly where that suit was meant to go.
He handed over the suit on Thursday afternoon and Gautreau was overcome with tears.
“I am hoping with this here it will help him have confidence again with himself and in people and I promise to stay close to him and keep talking to him and you never know what can come out of it,” said St-Coeur.
It did. Gautreau says the gesture and the suit have changed his life and he now plans to go to detox in the new year.