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Chillin' with Santa in the Ambulance

For Clay and Robin Richter, an ambulance is more than a place to treat and transport an injured person.

During the holiday season, it's also a place for Santa to hold court.

For the past three years, the Richters have parked an Isle of Wight Rescue Squad ambulance at the Smithfield Plaza Shopping Center on Benn s Church Boulevard, taken the stretcher out and opened it up to visitors.

"It gives kids a chance to see Santa," Clay Richter said. "And also to get into the back of an ambulance and see it's not a big, scary thing."

He also said that because there are fewer people around, it gives the children a chance to get some quality time with the man in red.

"We like it this way," Clay Richter said. "At the most we've had six kids standing outside the medic waiting. It's not like that movie, 'A Christmas Story,' where the line is a half-mile long."

In addition to children, adults of all ages and even pets come to visit with Santa, and some get their pictures taken.

When there's no foot traffic, Santa will stand next to the road, wave and offer a "ho, ho, ho" to anyone who passes by, Clay Richter said.

The only time it's really clear that the Richters are members of the rescue squad is when Robin Richter dons her jacket with the Isle of Wight markings.

And though the Richters collect donations for the squad's general fund - they collected about $400 in their first two years - that isn't their primary purpose.

"It was really just a way to give back," Clay Richter said. "Let them know you don't have to be afraid."

Santa will be with the ambulance at the shopping center from 6 until about 8 p.m. every day until Wednesday .

Lauren King, (757) 446-2309, lauren.king@pilotonline.com

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