Around this time each year, a decidedly festive transformation takes place in Pam and Joe Liguori's Bloomingdale East home.
Like the homes of many Christmas lovers, every room in the Liguori house is decked out with an array of holiday decorations, including Pam Liguori's collection of snowmen, angels and Santa Claus figures.
But the most dramatic change is in the couple themselves.
Pam Liguori pulls her granny gown, mop cap and shawl out of storage while Joe airs out his white beard and Santa suit just in time to usher in the holidays as Bloomingdale's perennial Santa and Mrs. Claus.
It's a cherished role the couple have now played for 26 years for the Bloomingdale Homeowners Association. And over the past two decades they've expanded their visits to include Christmas parties for sick and disabled children, underprivileged children and senior citizens.
This year, the Liguoris will make their debut appearance for the Bloomingdale Homeowners Association Saturday, Dec. 1 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Bloomingdale Special Taxing District office, 3509 Bell Shoals Rd., Valrico, behind SunTrust Bank.
Children throughout the community are invited to meet the jolly old couple and share their Christmas wish lists. Each child will receive a complimentary digital photo with Santa. The event is free but those attending are asked to bring a nonperishable food donation for area food banks.
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"I can't believe we've been doing this for so long," said Pam Liguori, recalling how they were first recruited to play the jolly old couple.
"We had just moved to Bloomingdale and got involved with the Bloomingdale Homeowners Association right away," said Pam Liguori. "One day Bloomingdale Gazette editor Susan DeLuca asked us if we'd play Santa and Mrs. Claus. So we dressed up and sat in an empty storefront near Publix, greeting all the children in the community."
In subsequent years, the Liguoris in the guise of Santa and the Mrs. also would tour the community on a fire truck provided by the Bloomingdale Volunteer Fire Station.
"It just blossomed from there. We kept doing it because we both love children and we love to see the looks on their faces," said Pam Liguori. "It’s very rewarding to see their little faces light up."
Well known in the community and at his church, St. Stephen Catholic Church in Valrico, for his affable personality and desire to make others laugh, Joe Liguori was well suited for the role, said his wife of 33 years.
"Joe really has a way with the children so they're not afraid of him. He's very patient with them and takes his time with every child. There are very few children that don't warm up to him," she said. "He often surprises the children by getting personal information about them from their parents. And he provides comfort when their daddy has been deployed or their grandma has died."
In the beginning, Joe Liguori rented a Santa costume from a local costume company. When the owner decided to retire the costume, Liguori purchased it.
For many Bloomingdale area children, the Liguoris are the only Santa and Mrs. Claus they've ever known, said Pam Liguori. And now, 26 years later, they are seeing a second generation of children during their holiday visits.
Over the years, Joe Liguori has become adept at satisfying the curiosity of the children he sees.
"Where are the reindeer?"
"They're at the North Pole resting up."
"Where are your elves?"
"They're busy make toys."
"How will you know where to find me on Christmas Eve?"
"Santa knows just where every child will be on Christmas Eve."
Most of the children offer Santa a well-prepared wish list containing the latest toys. But some ask for Santa to help daddy find a job or help make mommy better.
"Some of the requests are real tear jerkers," said Pam Liguori. "You just want to start crying. But he answers all of their questions with kindness and compassion."
From now until Christmas, the couple will keep busy visiting children at the Brandon FRIENDS Down syndrome support group, Pediatric Therapy Services, the St. Vincent de Paul Society and the Holy Family Adoption Group at St. Stephen Catholic Church. They also will be on hand for the Dec. 15 Shoeboxes for Seniors party at Joia Fabulous Pizza & Martini Bar in Riverview.
In the off season, the Liguoris, both retired, keep equally busy as ushers, eucharistic ministers, bereavement ministry volunteers and St. Vincent de Paul Society volunteers at St. Stephen Catholic Church.
The couple also is active with the Bloomingdale Area Community Council and Joe Liguori sits on the Bloomingdale Special Taxing District board.
For more information on Santa's Saturday visit, call 813-681-2051 or email email@example.com.