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Sunrise Mall features socially distanced Santa this year

Santa, wearing a mask for COVID-19 protocol, waives while seated at a photo area inside Sunrise Mall. // M. Hazlip

By Mike Hazlip—
Photos with Santa are a little different this year at Sunrise Mall.

Jolly old Saint Nick is greeting children at Sunrise Mall with a wave instead of a hug this Christmas. He’s also seated above and behind children for photos, and wears a mask.

Despite these changes to accommodate COVID-19 guidelines, Daryl Kumanchik told The Sentinel that children are happy to see him as Santa.

“Especially right now, it gives the kids a little bit of normalcy,” he said. “They didn’t know what to expect: they didn’t have an Easter bunny (this year), so Santa Claus is here and we’re going to be here until the 24th.”

Among the top toy requests this year are the Sony PlayStation 5 and “L.O.L. Dolls.” The latter are a line of collectible dolls that come in a ball, with each doll’s identity hidden until the packaging is opened. Some are more rare than others.

Not all children are asking for toys and games this year, however. Kumanchik said one girl around 10 years old asked for COVID to be over and to get rid of the masks.

Other common requests are for Santa to bring back grandparents who have passed on, or to reunite parents who are separated after divorce. Children have also asked him to bring a parent serving in the military home from overseas.

“Those kind of get to ya, you know,” he said. “All I can tell them is to be there for your family.”

Kumanchik is new to Sunrise Mall. In prior years, “Santa Rick” saw a generation of children come see him at Sunrise Mall, but his family reported that recent health concerns caused him to hang up his Santa hat.

Kumanchik said he’s dedicating his work to Mrs. Claus this year, noting that his wife of 32 years passed away in February.

“I wasn’t going to (be Santa) this year, but I decided to do it in her memory,” he said. “I’m glad to be here for what kids are here — they really appreciate seeing Santa.”

Photos with Santa are available through Thursday, Dec. 24, and parents can make reservations through an online booking system managed by Cherry Hill Programs. Staff at the event said walk-ins may be accommodated during slower times throughout the day.

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