By C.J. LovelaceDecember 9, 2019
FORT DETRICK, Md. -- Nearly a year ago, Todd Bishop pulled into his garage and tears of joy welled up in his eyes.
Dressed in a red Santa Claus suit trimmed with silver fur and gold brocade fabric, Bishop had just returned from his neighbor's house where he surprised a couple children with gifts and holiday cheer.
"Those kids were just jumping out of their skin," said Bishop, a retired Army officer who now serves as director of the Business Support Office at the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Agency. "It just brought so much joy. Like, 'oh my goodness, that just happened.'"
That was the moment that Bishop realized he would become "Santa Todd" each year.
"Seeing how much joy Santa brought that family brought so much joy to me," he said. "Everything about that experience was joy. That really resonated with me."
Bishop's path to the role as Santa was unexpected. In April 2018, he started growing out his salt-and-pepper beard. Bishop said his wife, Michelle, liked it as it grew and got curly, so he let it go.
Little did he know that a trip back to South Carolina later that year for a gathering at his alma mater, The Citadel, would lead to a "life-changing" event. It was there Bishop ran into an old classmate, Max Kuhns, or "Santa Max," who has been playing the iconic Christmas character for years.
"And his wife, Mindie, who I had just met, her first question to me was: 'Have you ever played Santa before?'"
The question caught him off guard.
"I was like, 'uh, no, playing Santa has never even been on my radar,'" Bishop said. "Her very next statement to me was: 'I'm making you a suit.'"
And to Bishop's surprise, she did create a beautiful custom suit that he now wears proudly as he donates his time to various charities, including Gold in Fight, a foundation dedicated to serving families in need due to hardships caused by pediatric cancer.
"I could tell his excitement right away," said Mikel Griffith, founder and president of Gold in Fight. "In the world we live today, it's nice to know there are people who want to help and give back. ... We're so appreciative of that."
Bishop does not charge money or collect donations. Instead, he is focused on donating his time to good causes.
This year, he is booked for several breakfast and dinner with Santa events, as well as a bowling with Santa event supporting the Fort Meade Exceptional Family Member program. He will also donate his time to Marine Corps Toys for Tots.
Then, on the final weekend before Christmas, Bishop said he plans to participate when Gold in Fight delivers presents to the homes of the families they are supporting.
"Just the thought of seeing the joy that we will bring to these kids who are struggling with cancer ... it actually chokes me up just thinking about it," he said.
Bishop, who has kept his focus on fitness from his Army days, describes his version of Santa as a "more modern" twist on the traditional St. Nicholas - no big round belly or "ho, ho, ho" exclamations.
The beard, however, is still 100% real. He recalls the first child he interacted with actually tested his "beard authenticity."
"She asked, 'is that real?'" Bishop laughed. "I just leaned down and she pulled on it."
With a great big smile she exclaimed, "It is real!"