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Jacksonville dentist travels to Ukraine as Santa to bring Christmas cheer to war-torn country

FERNANDINA BEACH, Fla. — A local dentist traded his tools and scrubs for a big red suit and some gifts: Dr. John Pfefferle is making the season bright in Ukraine.

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Pfefferle was a pediatric dentist for 20 years and did several missionary trips dating back to 1988. This Christmas, he went to Ternopil, Ukraine, not to clean teeth, but to spread some much needed holiday cheer.

“It’s like you’re building somebody back up again,” explained Pfefferle. “Everything’s been taken out of them, and we’re trying to put it back little by little.”

And “little by little” is how he turned his garage into Santa’s workshop. Most items he collected came to Pfefferle as donations left on his doorstep, and behind most items is a story.

“I had a little girl come. Her and her mom were walking. She gave me a folded up dollar bill that she wanted to give to the cold children,” Pfefferle said.

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Then, there’s the dress.

“I keep looking at this, and I keep thinking, ‘How can I not take this?’ Hopefully, a little girl that just needs that in her life right now to feel pretty for a day will get it,” Pfefferle said.

It is Pfefferle’s hope that he can replace some of the Ukrainian people’s hopelessness with smiles, but he said that none of it would have been possible without the generosity of his neighbors.

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After touching down in Ukraine on Dec. 9, the dentist traveled from orphanages to senior homes. He told Action News Jax that what touches him most are the expressions of gratitude he gets when he arrives bearing gifts.

Pfefferle is still in Ukraine and sent Action News Jax a recent update. Santa went to a program sponsored by a police department for low-income and high-risk families. He said American Santa has “movie-star status” in Ukraine.

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