BESSEMER CITY, N.C. (QUEEN CITY NEWS) – A local Santa has gifted the community for decades with his naturally jolly demeanor and white beard. This Christmas, he’s got something unique on his wish list.
“Ninty-two thousand people waiting to get kidneys,” said Joe Greene, the owner of the 161 Flea Market and resident Saint Nicholas. “And you know (a kidney is) a lot to ask people for. I said, ‘You know, even if I don’t get it for me, it’ll help somebody else.’”
Every year, kids get to tell him what they want for Christmas, but Santa is rarely asked what he wants. Greene’s family is getting the word out this holiday season about something the man known as Father Christmas desperately needs.
He and his wife have an urgent message on the back window of their vehicles.
“Santa’s Wish List: Type O Kidney,” it read. “To share your spare, call (704) 616-2659.”
“What they’re trying to do is get me a kidney before I have to go on dialysis,” Joe explained. “But if I do, I’m just like anybody else. If I have to have (dialysis), I have to have it.”
During this most wonderful time of year, the flea market owner wears many hats.
“What do you want for Christmas?” he frequently asks at a 161 Flea Market event, including Santa Claus and train rides for the children.
“Oh, you want to sit in my lap,” he said to a child. “Oh, you’re getting heavy!”
Some “play” Santa Claus; this is a way of life for Greene. “Ho ho ho! Merry Christmas!” he belted out during an interview at his home.
“Everybody has got a little bit of Santa in them,” Greene told Queen City News. “And we do what we love, doing stuff for other people.”
He’s embodied the spirit of Jolly Old St. Nicholas for 22 years. And if you’re wondering, the beard is natural.
“Yeah, I have kids come up and pull it!” Greene said with a laugh.
Because of diabetes, his kidney function has dropped to 14 percent of normal. Before becoming a community holiday icon, he was the family’s Santa.
“So, he has been Santa our whole lives,” said daughter Melissa Greene, showing us a stack of old Chrismas photos.
“The girls did not believe that his beard was real,” says Melissa’s sister Deborah Parker. “Yey decided that they were going to pull on the beard!”
Melissa and Deborah believe opening up about their dad’s need provides the best hope for a kidney. Neither of them are a match.
“And it’s only in this last little bit that we’ve said, ‘Okay, now it’s time to reach out to others.’ And to see if we can get him that help that he would be willing to do for anybody if he was able,” Melissa said.
“And it is hard to see that he might have to go on to dialysis, and then it would reduce his life expectancy,” Deborah added.
The Greene family’s decision to go public could eventually lead to the gift of life. But in reality, this is more than just one man because raising public awareness is more significant than Santa.
Joe has a lot to live for, including his wife of nearly 50 years. He had Anna at “hello” and “Ho ho ho.”
“It’s time to go public and see if there’s someone out there for Santa, as well as making people aware that there is a need for living donors,” Anna says.
“They call it, in the kidney donation circle, ‘The big ask, the big give.’ So you have to ask big and give big,” Melissa said, becoming emotional.
She thinks the gift of a kidney is worthy of a man with such a big heart.
“Every time I see you, y’all get bigger and bigger,” we heard Joe say to the Lamb family.
They have fond memories of him as Santa. Eight years ago, Leslie Lamb’s twin girls were born prematurely. They had NICU treatment before coming home. On Christmas Eve, Mr. and Mrs. Claus surprised them and posed for a particular photo. Leslie says many good deeds deserve another.
“It’s just such a wonderful family, and I’m really praying that Santa will find a kidney,” said Lamb.
As you’d expect, Santa remains as merry as they come despite his concerns.
“Life’s too short to be sitting around worrying about all the problems and everything else; this is a month to celebrate. And that’s what Christmas is all about, celebrating Christ,” Joe said.
No matter how his kidney search goes, Joe says he’ll do whatever it takes to be there for the kids at Christmastime. You better believe it.
“When you get to where you don’t believe in Santa Claus, let me tell you what will happen,” he advised a skeptical girl, one of the older kids who came out to see him. “You won’t get as much for Christmas.”
That innate positivity prompts him to cheer up, even when he’s worried.