He’s making a list and checkin’ it twice,
His heart is real big and his blue suit is real nice,
Coppa Claus is comin’ to town!
Sure, those are not the original lyrics to the timeless holiday classic but after meeting Rev. Todd A. Rhodes, I am convinced that children of Savannah and Brunswick will be singing the aforementioned words. Why?
The Georgia transplant has called Savannah home since he was a child. After accepting a post to pastor the Shiloh Mission Baptist Church in Brunswick, the father of five is now continuing an old tradition sure to take away the winter blues, in more ways than one. Rhodes is certainly not the only police officer to be a pastor, but he is the world’s only Coppa Claus.
Coupling his passion for helping children and their families in need and wanting to go above and beyond the call of duty especially during the holidays, Rhodes’ unique jolly character was birthed in Savannah back in 1993.
“God placed the idea in my heart to want to help out the community especially impoverished families and children who were in hospital due to sickness or injury,” admits Rhodes. “I noticed that a lot of families were in Savannah living in hotels and buying food and paying so much in medical bills that there was hardly anything left to give their children Christmas gifts. I knew that I just had to help.”
Rhodes went home and shared his vision with his wife Barbara and somehow, the idea for a gift giving, Santa-inspired, blue-suited police officer came. In true Mrs. Claus fashion, she not only supported her husband’s idea but actually got used her talents and stitched him is signature blue Santa suit and joined him as he handed out gifts, provided by generous donors.
“My wife is the ultimate volunteer,” Rhodes says proudly. “She’s there from the time the gifts are received, to the sorting by gender and age process, and the distribution once we identify families by the children’s age and locations. We have many people working with us, and we are able to really see the fruits of our labor.”
Now with 19 years of spreading cheer in Chatham county, Brunswick is getting a taste of Coppa Claus too. “We’ve been doing this for nearly 20 years and there is always a newness to if for me and my wife,” he beamed. “Coppa Claus had five events on the 2012 Christmas agenda and we even took him to the Coastal Georgia jail to brighten the lives of children who have fathers incarcerated there. Despite being in jail, these children still need to know their father and understand the importance of family. It also boosts the men’s morale to be able to spend a few hours with their children.”
So, what is the one piece of advice a man who wears the hat of a pastor, police officer and philanthropist have to say to those wondering what to do for the holidays? “Find a ministry or an organization that gives to the less fortunate and see how you can help,” Rhodes answers. “You can never do too much especially when it is making someone’s Christmas a lot brighter.”
Through Coppa Claus, Rhodes is utilizing his skills as a reverend to futher his ministry.
“As a police officer and an ordained minister, I go places others fear to go, and I see needs that no one ever sees,” says Rhodes. “The needs are increasing and our Coppa Claus ministy seeks to address them by opening more doors to help the many who may otherwise be forgotten.”
Coppa Claus distributes gift items to children and adults of low income, the hospitalized, in hospices, In convalescent centers, to the children of military personnel deployed overseas, the children of the incarcerated, and to the children of those who have been victimized by crime. As of 2011, over 7,500 children of needy families have been served without regard to race, religion, or income.