The phone rang and John Chase sprang into action as Bart the Elf, Santa's little-known but orneriest helper.
"Hey, dude, you been good this year?" said Chase, an 18-year-old Mission Viejo High School senior, into the phone. When the child answered "yes," Chase continued with his dead-on impersonation of the bratty son on the animated TV series "The Simpsons."
"Why?" he demanded. "Oh, I get it, you're trying to earn presents, huh? Good plan."
Chase is one of six area students working for Saddleback Valley Unified School District's Santa program, answering telephone calls and letters directed at Santa and his elves from local youngsters.
The phone program, which ended Friday, received about 25 calls a night, while the district has so far received about 50 letters to Santa, each of which is answered individually. Letters are being accepted through Thursday.
Robin Towne, a 16-year-old Mission Viejo High School junior, said one child could hear the canned background music playing in the school district offices and wanted to know why Santa didn't listen to carols.
"I told her the music she heard is what Rudolph listens to to go to sleep," Towne said.
Another girl asked Jim Felbinger, who was portraying Santa, why she couldn't hear his reindeer when they land on her roof.
"I told her, 'You have a little brother, right?' " said Felbinger, a 21-year-old Cal Poly San Luis Obispo student, who has returned to Mission Viejo for the holidays. " 'Well, you don't want me to wake him up, do you?' And she said, 'No.' "
The students said the most popular gift requests have been Nintendo video games and dolls. But most of all, the children want to thank Santa for his past generosity, the students said.
"They just mostly say, 'I love you,' " said Rachel Rinder, who has answered most of the letters. "One asked if she could do anything for the poor. Another wrote back, saying she wanted to apologize because she had sounded too greedy the first time."