Whether he's playing Santa Claus or just being himself, Westport resident Al DiGuido, founder of Al's Angels, proves you don't need wings, a halo or a white robe to be an angel. Founded in 2004, Al's Angels is a nonprofit organization that provides help and joy to children and families suffering with cancer, rare blood diseases, AIDS or domestic violence.
"These diseases are despicable villains to kids: They didn't do anything to bring it on themselves," said Al, 54. "Our slogan is, 'Be not afraid.' And we wanted to step in and show these kids they have nothing to be afraid of because we'll be there as angels to help them through."
Since it was founded, Al's Angels has provided thousands of children and families in the tri-state area with food and toys. This year, Al said about 2,000 families will get with holiday meals and more than 5,000 children will receive new toys.
But beyond giving, Al and his angels work hard to bring joy. Around Christmas, Al, dressed as Santa, his friend Steve Rubin, who plays Frosty, and other angels hold a holiday party and hand out toys.
"Being Santa for kids in tremendous need, who want to believe in hopeit's very rewarding," Al said. "There is tremendous joy in knowing the little we've done has brought some hope at a very challenging time."
He founded Al's Angels in 2004, but Al became enthralled with charity work 15 years ago after attending a fundraiser for the Tomorrows Children's Fund and hearing from parents of children with terminal cancer.
"At the time, I had three young kids, and I kept thinking, 'What if it were me? What if it were my child?'" Al said. "None of my children had to deal with these illnesses, but just because you're not impacted by it doesn't mean you can act like it doesn't exist."
Click here to sign up for Daily Voice's free daily emails and news alerts.