More than 100 of St. Nick's helpers — all disguised in their best Santa outfits — descended on the Balboa Peninsula on Saturday for the fifth annual Santa Pub Crawl to benefit a local charity for the third consecutive year.
Locals dressed as Santa, Mrs. Claus, jolly elves and even Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer joined with Project Access, a nonprofit that provides gifts and holiday meals to needy families, and raised about $1,800 from the single night event.
Organized by Newport Beach residents Christopher Pope and Robert Weiner, partners in a local import-export business, participants purchased a wrist band for a donation of $10 to $20, which qualified them for discount specials at participating restaurants: Newport Landing, Balboa Saloon, Shore House Cafe and Cabo Cantina.
Donations will help "provide holiday celebrations at each of Project Access' more than 30 Family and Senior Resource Centers throughout California," according to a statement from Project Access. "As a result, every low-income Project Access participant will enjoy a festive holiday meal, and every child will leave with a toy – perhaps the only one they will receive this holiday season."
The event has exploded since 2006, when Pope organized the first event as a fun get together with about 10 friends in San Francisco, he said.
Moving the event to Newport Beach in 2007, Pope began looking for ways to use the event's publicity to draw attention to local charities and partnered with Project Access in 2008.
"The first year we incorporated a charity, we had about  Santas but we also saw that random people who didn't necessarily know about the event got excited and want to be involved next year," Pope said. "It's hard to see a Santa and not be pumped."
With more than 100 participants, Pope and Weiner worked with local restaurants to ensure that there would be enough staff for a secure and successful event, Pope said.
Combined with other precautions and warnings given to participants, the high-energy pub crawl went off without a mishap, he said.
With their success this year — a record breaker for the event — Pope and Weiner hope to pull in even more support for next year.
"It's a real start," Weiner said. "We want to make this bigger and make more people aware of Project Access. We've double our numbers each year since the start, if we could keep that up in the next few years it would be astronomical."
What: Newport Beach Santa Pub Crawl 2011
What: Project Access