T'was a few nights before Christmas but Saudi Claus was already hard at work, handing out presents.
Saudi Claus, actually Saudia Shuler, is the North Philly mom who famously hired a live camel for her son's over-the-top Dubai-themed prom sendoff last spring.
And she was back at it Wednesday night. This time throwing an extravagant holiday block party and toy giveaway complete with live reindeer –Tubby and Comet – from Santa's Pit Stop at Z Arch Barn Farm in Easton, Pa. (Rudolph must have been up at the North Pole resting up for Sunday night.)
She even had fake snow blowing out of a second-floor window onto the huge crowd below that waited for hours in the frigid temperatures outside her Country Cookin takeout in the 2800 block of N. 22nd Street. The line for free toys, which started forming about 1 p.m. for the 5 p.m. event, stretched down the street and around the block. Shuler named her toy giveaway, the "North Pole Comes to Norf Philly" and spared absolutely no expense. She had two oversized Christmas displays, a photo booth, a giant ice sculptures, Disney characters, a deejay and burly volunteers from Corey Contracting as security. The food was elegantly displayed on tiered trays that sat on long tables covered with red linen tablecloths.
In all of my life, I've never seen anything like it. It looked like Christmas on steroids.
Santa was dancing like he was in a rap video accompanied by colorfully costumed elves who in real life work at Shuler's soul food takeout. Mickey Mouse, who took a few breaks from the kids, showed he could get down too. "Stop hitting Mickey," the deejay yelled to the children at one point.
"I said let's give them an experience," Shuler said of the many wide-eyed children in attendance. "I just want them to feel things like how my grandmother had us feel. I don't want them to have to go to other neighborhoods to see people do things. I want them to know that we can do anything we set our minds to do."
Shuler, who was dressed in a Sexy Santa outfit with a short skirt and shoulders exposed, sat on an elaborate gold-trimmed white throne as children came forward and sat on her lap. Then, one of the many elf volunteers she had on hand would escort them into the front room of a rowhouse packed with toys. And I don't mean coloring books and puzzles.
Shuler, who arranged for her son to have not one but three luxury cars, three beautiful dates, and three outfit changes for his high school prom in June, gave away 100 bicycles, and I watched slack jawed as a toddler was placed on a miniature white Bentley. Another kid got a yellow Lamborghini. I watched one little guy pose for pictures in what looked like a Batmobile. I couldn't tell because it was covered with fake snow. Others got scooters, helicopters, guitars – all kinds of good stuff. She even had hair extensions to give away. Yes, that's right – hair. I giggled at the sight of a wig on a styrofoam head inside Saudi Claus' workshop, but I knew some teen girl waiting in line would be more than glad to have it.
"We've got at least 800 presents so I hope everybody gets a present," she said happily.
The free cupcakes went fast and then people settled in for the considerable wait. Others lined up across the street to watch the Christmas spectacle that included Shuler and her workers at Country Cookin dancing to Cardi B's hit song, Bodak Yellow.
The deejay had to keep yelling at people to get out of the street, which police eventually shut down. But otherwise, the crowd was mostly orderly. Shuler is known for putting people in check but also for her incredible generosity. For back to school, she gave away hundreds of book bags. Then, when rapper Meek Mill was locked up, she closed down her soul-food restaurant and gave away Free Meek Mill Meals of fried fish and grits to raise awareness. Note to Andy Cohen on Bravo: She's a one-woman marketing whiz who really needs to have her own reality TV show. And what a heart! You don't see this kind of generosity all that often.
"She came to my house last year and brought Christmas to my kids," said Theresa McCormick, 28, and a mother of 3-year-old fraternal twins. "She takes care of a lot of people."
"She loves her 'hood. She loves her community."