The miracle of Christmas Magic was born through the efforts of one dad wanting to teach his children the true meaning of Christmas. In 32 years, it has grown to hundreds of caring and giving people sharing with their own Long Island neighbors who have fallen on hard times.
In 1985, when his six kids were still in elementary and middle school, Hauppauge attorney Charlie Russo wanted to find a practical way to engage them in the true meaning of Christmas. He gathered his kids after withdrawing a few hundred dollars from their family account and took his older children shopping for 16 kids in one homeless shelter. Once the shopping was done, and gifts wrapped, he told his kids that on Christmas Eve he would dress up as Santa and he wanted them to be his elves. That night he saw pure joy on the faces of kids who weren’t going to have a Christmas. His children learned the joy of giving, and Christmas Magic was born. The next few years saw the one shelter involvement grow to a few more shelters, as family, neighbors and teammates offered to help as well.
Russo formed a nonprofit in 1990 to use the magic to help more kids . By 2000, more than three thousand kids were gifted. By 2010, more than 7,000 kids participated. The “magic” is now shared with more than 11,000 Long Island kids in over 55 shelters, agencies, programs, churches and schools.
What makes Christmas Magic unique is that children send hand-written
Santa letters with their personal wishes.
While attending Hofstra University School of Law in the 1970s, Mr. Russo was a resident assistant director of Melville House, where he lived with 35 homeless boys. It was there that the idea of Christmas Magic was first imagined. The community dropped off new gifts for the boys, but gifts not chosen for a specific child’s wishes. One of the special attributes of the future Christmas Magic organization was born from those years. Russo decided he wanted to have kids write down exactly what they want. This exercise showed kids that they are being listened to and heard. The simple joy of receiving a gift requested from Santa himself is priceless.
The wishes sometimes are the usual “top ten” toys of the year. Others are practical. One year, a teenage boy asked just for a lint brush. Another asked just for one pair of pants, so she didn’t have to wear the one pair she had to school each day. Some children ask nothing for themselves, but use their wishes to ask for help for a family member. A bed for grandma. A new pair of shoes for mom. And some are heart-breaking. Wishes for domestic abuse in their home to stop. Wishes for an absent parent to re-connect. Wishes for a permanent home outside of a shelter.
Christmas Magic is funded solely by private donations and word of mouth. With very low overhead costs, donations are earmarked towards gifts. The success of the program lies in volunteers who handle everything from shopping for gifts, to wrapping the presents, to the delivery to shelters and groups, and hosting energetic parties. From its inception, the program has had a special relationship to high school and college sports programs in Nassau and Suffolk.