'It's just amazing': Mountain Santa tradition going strong even after founder's death

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HARLAN COUNTY, Ky. (WYMT) - For 42 years, Mike Howard was the "Mountain Santa" of Harlan County.

He traveled across the area dressed as Santa delivering thousands of toys to children and families who may not be able to afford a Christmas.

In early 2018, Mike lost his battle to cancer, roughly eight months later, Mike's wife Barbara died too.

Jordan Howard, their son has been working around the clock to keep the Mountain Santa tradition alive. This holiday season will be the second year he has been Mountain Santa without his father around.

"Everything's still coming together," Jordan said.

He spends his Tuesday after work hanging up bigger toys that would not fit in the workshop along the side of a building that has served as "Mountain Santa's workshop" for decades.

Inside other family members wrap gifts. The workshop sits alongside a road appropriately named "Santa Lane" in Wallins Creek. This, after Jordan's father who was Santa for decades.

"I'd say we got over 1,000 right now and it's just middle point, middle way, halfway through," he added, surrounded by shelves of wrapped presents.

Jordan says when all is said and done they will roughly have 3,000 to 3,500 gifts to give out.

"Dad told before he passed, he said you gotta have the lord in it, so that's what I'm doing," he said.

Carrying on his father's tradition is how he keeps his mother and father's spirit around.

"It's a feeling that you can't describe, you don't think that a community would come together like they have to keep doing this but it's just awesome. It's just amazing... it's just, it's something," he said.

December 14 will be the first run they make to give out toys.

"I'm excited for Christmas, I sure am," he adds grinning.

For anyone who would like to help, Howard says you can simply show up to the workshop.

Jordan will be holding roadblocks to raise money.

The first will be Nov. 29 and 30 at the Village Center and the Walmart Bridge on Nov. 29.

They will also have one in Wallins on Dec. 7.