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Santa for the Very Poor

A young door-to-door salesman named Al Fellinger had an encounter 54 years ago when he called on a family in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Chicago. His job for the utility company that employed him was to make sure that electrical appliances were in good working order. As Fellinger remembers it, "An elderly woman opened the door. I explained why I was there and inquired about her appliances. Specifically, I asked if she'd mind if I checked her refrigerator. She began to cry. Through her tears and heavy accent she told me that it didn't matter if her refrigerator worked. I asked why and she said, 'No money to buy food to put in it.' Then she repeated, 'No money for food.' The women went on to say that she used her refrigerator only to store dishes.

When Fellinger left, the words “no money to buy food” resonated in his head. He decided to go to a nearby grocery store and purchased twenty dollars worth of food—enough, in 1956, to fill several bags. He returned to the woman in her small apartment and gave her the groceries. The women cried, “Man of mercy!” throwing her arms around him.”

Fellinger later told the story to his good friend Bob Erzinger. Together the two men contemplated how many other people in Chicago would be in the same situation during that Christmas season. Hundreds? Thousands? Was there a way to provide assistance? The result of that conversation became Santa for the Very Poor.

For over 50 years Santa for the Very Poor (SVP) has been bringing the spirit of the holidays to those in need in Chicago. SVP is a unique grass-roots non-profit organization that works with both religious organizations and social agencies to help make the holidays more meaningful.

Santa for the Very Poor purchases and delivers holiday packages to thousands of the very poor in Chicago each year. The contribution and impact SVP provides couldn’t be stronger, as 100% of every penny donated (now over $125,000 a year) goes straight to the purchasing of toys, knit goods and food for distribution to the families in need. Each family receives two large shopping bags. One is chock full of toys, games, stuffed animals, mittens, warm headgear and scarves. The contents of this bag are tailored for a specific family. The other bag contains food items for a holiday dinner for the whole family. Each family also receives a $50 certificate which can be redeemed at any Jewel supermarket.

SVM’s Marshall Reavis and Christian Erzinger are current SVP directors, and have been actively involved with Santa for the Very Poor for many years.

As directors they follow SVP’s three simple rules: Contribute Solicit and Participate. Each director contributes personally to Santa for the Very Poor by soliciting donations and by participating in the packing and distribution of the holiday parcels. Since SVP directors perform all necessary tasks related to the purchasing of items and personally assume all of the distribution, every dollar raised goes directly to the needy. All administrative costs, including postage are paid by the directors.

The success of SVP lies in its simplicity and the willingness of its directors and contributors to reach out to others less fortunate and bring the true meaning of Christmas into the hearts of many children and families. The possibilities are endless, but are limited by the amount of funds that generous donated each year.

To learn more about Santa for the Very Poor or to make a donation visit: www.santavp.org