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Real-Life Holiday Heroes

Project Santa

So for the past 19 years Cliff has responded to anywhere from 6 to 10 "Dear Santa" letters a year. He's got a system down pat. A few days after Thanksgiving he picks up the letters. The next four weeks are a whirlwind of rounding up gifts. "Then comes what we refer to as 'D-Day,' when Joey, Mildred, and I make our big run."

That would be Joey Lindicy and Mildred Lizardi, Cliff's coworkers at the New York State Housing Finance Agency—his passion for "Project Santa" prompted them to join the cause. Thanks to donations from other colleagues and friends, by mid-December Cliff's office is crammed with toys and clothes; last year he raised $3,000 to fill in the blanks on the various wish lists. "Some kids ask for a computer, but in the end they're always thrilled with simple things like board games," he says. "In all this time I've never seen a child unhappy with his gifts."

As Christmas approaches, Cliff takes the donations home and adds them to the sizable stash of toys amassed by his wife, Joanne, who buys them on sale throughout the year. She and their two teenage daughters, Valerie, 16, and Danielle, 13, help sort, label, and pack everything. "We make sure that every child gets several toys and some clothes," he says. "And we always give the parents an envelope with at least $100 cash."