Santa Claus is busy in Milford this summer

It may be hot, and August, but Santa has been busy at a warehouse in Milford building himself a new workshop.

Okay, so he may not be the real Santa Claus, but as former Animal Control Officer Rick George explains to his grandchildren, “Santa can’t be everywhere and he has hand picked designees — and grandpa is one of them.”

George has been helping Santa out for years. He started 28 years ago when he worked at the Milford Animal Shelter and he and another former Animal Control Officer, Pat Liptak, decided to host a pet photos with Santa event to raise funds for various shelter needs. George wore the suit.

Since then, George has put on his Santa suit at a number of events and fundraisers, from Toys for Tots to tree lightings to school functions.

Retired somewhat, though he does work at a Milford elementary school as a front entrance greeter, George was thinking about building a tiny house, which is all the craze in downsized, simple living, when he switched gears and decided to build Santa’s workshop.

George likes to build things — a former carpenter with automotive skills, he built a replica of a trolley car for the Shoreline Trolley Museum and a gas powered tug boat for a school in Illinois.

So, with a past that includes fundraising for groups like the United Way, George knew that nonprofit groups these days are in ever need of new ways to raise funds. Santa’s workshop will let him drive up to an event, open his doors and offer Santa and his workshop for fund-raising photos.

He calls it a mobile photo studio, and proceeds will go to the non-profit group that requests the workshop.

The workshop looks like a tiny house in progress, for those who have watched them being built on HGTV or other networks. George is doing most of the work himself, though he has a friend who has been helping with welding. He started around June building the structure on top of an 18-foot car trailer. When done, the wooden house-like workshop will be 24 feet by eight feet wide, and will have a pull-out section for even more photo opportunities.

George has been collecting material for projects for years, and one time he came across a pile of pine butterfly wood at a tag sale that he was able to get for about $50. The $800 worth of wood will make a beautiful interior for the workshop, and not only that, the wood comes from the old Remington Factory. George’s father used to work there, so he thinks there’s a good chance his father may have placed hands on the wood, making the project even more special.

The outside of the structure will be red with green trim, and there will be a computerized light and sound system, powered by a generator in the back. Inside will be oak flooring and the pine walls, and an old fashioned chair and tools that would naturally be in Santa’s workshop.

When the workshop is done, hopefully by this holiday season, George will be able to hook it up to his truck and it will be ready to spread holiday cheer.

He doesn’t talk about cost. “I don’t look at the cost when I’m building a project,” he said with a hearty Santa laugh. “It would scare me.” Instead, he buys the material as he goes and as he needs it.

In addition to the workshop, what George has to offer is that he has taken on a definite Santa look. With a full white beard and typically wearing some red and green, George said a little girl shopping with her mother a few weeks ago at Toys R Us actually asked for a few words with Santa.

George said that was a precious moment. He was in the store, focusing on a project and what he needed to buy, when a woman walked up to him and asked if he’d mind talking to her four-year-old.

“She thinks you’re Santa,” the mother told him.

George’s response? “I am,” he said, and stooped down for a little chat with a fellow believer.

“I enjoy keeping the magic of Christmas alive,” George said. “And I enjoy keeping Christ in Christmas. I like kids and I think it’s important that adults don’t talk down to them, but communicate on their level.”

And if the look and the workshop don’t convince you that Santa has helpers in this area, just take a look at George’s business card. It reads, “Richard ‘Rick’ George, ‘Santa Rick’ North Pole.”