Silas Greear, foreground, and his brother, Elliot Greear of Durham greet Santa Claus as he arrives Sunday at the Auburn-Lewiston Airport in Auburn for the toy fly-in. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

AUBURN — Santa Claus hit the runway Sunday afternoon at the Auburn-Lewiston Airport to contribute to the Stuff the Bus toy drive.

While Santa’s plane, a Van’s Aircraft RV9A piloted by its owner, Russell Keith, a private pilot based out of the airport, was grounded due to high winds, he pulled onto the tarmac in an airport vehicle, waving to onlookers while sporting his familiar red outfit.

Inside the facility, a tree with seasonal decorations was surrounded by wrapped gifts. Donations from residents spilled out of bins onto a table and floor near the entrance.

Bettyann Sheats, the airport’s interim manager, said donations had been arriving since Saturday, when the event was originally scheduled but canceled due to rain.

The toy drive, run by the Lewiston Auburn Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, will distribute presents through local charities to children in the community. In 2020, the chamber had its most successful Stuff the Bus event, thanks to organizations including the airport, whose efforts to raise awareness for the cause allowed residents to give back this holiday season.

Santa Claus sits Sunday next to toys that were brought to the Auburn-Lewiston Airport in Auburn during the toy fly-in. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Donations came from a variety of sources this year, including Elite Airways and New England Airlines, two charter services that use the airport and dropped off gifts. Airport employees also contributed.


The inaugural fly-in was the brainchild of  Sheats, who said she relishes any opportunity to extoll the important work being done at the airport.

“Our goal was to get people here to learn about the facility,” Sheats said. “We want people to know we’re here, and being able to collect toys for children in the community is a blessing.”

The 627-acre facility houses aircraft used for commercial and private flights, including large hangars where decommissioned planes are cannibalized for parts.

During World War II, George H.W. Bush, who would go on to become the nation’s 41st president, received Naval flight training at the airport while living in Lewiston with his wife, Barbara, for almost three months in 1945.

Santa Claus gets a ride to the terminal Sunday for the toy fly-in at the Auburn-Lewiston Airport. Santa had hoped to arrive by aircraft, but the winds were too strong. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

At a conference room with windows that look out onto the 5000-foot runway, hot chocolate, apple cider and snacks where available, although the candy canes crowning Santa’s basket were the biggest hit.

Stephen Martelli, the man dressed as Santa Claus, invited visitors of all ages to share with him their Christmas wishes, even offering to share his coat with a woman who complained of the cold.

Amos Grant of Leeds dropped off a puzzle and toy groceries, coming to Santa for a candy cane and to say hello.

A private pilot, Grant said he is a believer in the good the airport does all year round.

“I used to work here,” Grant said. “I thought I’d come and help out.”

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