With a career as a VP of construction for an agency that builds housing for the homeless, an equally demanding side job as a volunteer firefighter in his hometown, Levittown, Long Island, plus a wife and two teenage daughters, you'd think Cliff Archer had his hands full. And you'd be right—yet every November he gears up to play Santa to families who would otherwise have nothing to show for the holiday season but disappointment.
He's definitely not your typical Saint Nick. There's not a "ho-ho-ho" to be had in his lexicon. His sleigh is a run-of-the-mill minivan. And he skips the red hat in favor of a Yankee baseball cap. Lack of trappings aside, this dad is the real deal.
He's been answering kids' pleas every year since 1988, when he was inspired by a newspaper article about the United States Postal Service's "Letters to Santa" program. Each year hundreds of thousands of appeals pour into the cavernous main post office in Manhattan, and Cliff doesn't shy away from even the most heartbreaking.
"My parents were a cop and a nurse, and we had very little money when I was growing up," he says, with characteristic directness. "They were poor but honest, and they instilled in me the importance of always trying to help someone less fortunate. When I saw that article, I realized that anything I could do to make the holidays less bleak for someone having a hard time was worthwhile."