The grandfather of an East Tennessee girl impersonates Santa Claus to raise money to help pay his granddaughter's medical expenses.

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(WBIR - Alcoa) Putting other first has become a defining Christmas tradition. That tradition was on display Wednesday evening at McAlister's Deli.

At the Marilyn Lane business, was a man with a long, white beard. He was also dressed in a red and white suit. Many thought he was Santa Claus, but he said he's one of Santa's helpers and has been assigned to play Santa in Rocky Top.

The man behind the beard and the suit was really Charles Pittman, who impersonates Santa as a way to raise money for a special person.

"It's all for my granddaughter, Claire Cox.," Pittman said.

Claire is four years old, and just before birth she suffered a stroke, causing her physical limitations on the right side of her body. In the last year, Claire has undergone several surgeries, which have enabled her to play with others her age for the first time.

"She doesn't really know that she has a handicap," said Pittman.

Claire is in the same preschool class as one of the daughters of McAlister's owner, Chris Smith. When he heard Claire's story, Smith decided to help with her medical expenses by hiring Pittman to play Jolly Old Saint Nick for the restaurant's kid's night. This was the first time the deli has had a visit from someone in the recognizable red and white suit.

"It's a win-win situation. It's a great opportunity to help Claire, a very worthy cause. And we're just so thankful for our guests who come in, particularly our younger guests, and it's a great opportunity to show our appreciation towards them," said Smith.

But no one is as appreciative as Pittman.

"Santa Claus is love and, without saying, I love my granddaughter," he said.

Claire's medical expenses are well into the tens of thousands of dollars, if not hundreds of thousands.

The four-year-old girl may have additional surgery on her right hand and arm in the future.

To contact Charles Pittman regarding booking dates, times and rates, email him at charlespittman@centurylink.net. He may also be reached at (865) 585 - 8152.

Donations for Claire may be mailed to: Claire Cox Medical Fund, P.O. Box 214, Sharps Chapel, TN 37866.

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