Editor's note: This story originally posted on Macomb Patch on Dec. 8. Today it was chosen for Huffington Post's "Greatest Person of the Day " feature. We hope this inspires other "elves" in Michigan and around the country to help Mike Chase's cause and develop similar projects of their own.
Yes, Macomb, there is a Santa Claus.
While he does not live in the North Pole or travel in a reindeer-drawn sleigh, this suburban Santa is as much in tune with the spirit of Christmas as the jolly old elf of holiday lore.
In his Macomb Township neighborhood, he is known as Mike Chase, but to the hundreds of men, women and children living in the Mound Road Housing Projects of Detroit, he is and always shall be Santa C.
"He's a big man with a heart as big as his frame," said friend Mike Leon. "He’s a definite Type A personality with a great sense of humor and just a passion for helping these people."
Twenty years ago, Chase brought his first bag of stuffed toys to the children of the projects. Now as he drives a 25-foot U-Haul filled with clothes, food and toys to that same location, the 51-year-old says, “I know I can’t stop, and I never will, because they rely on me for a Christmas.”
There are no elves to stock Chase’s workshop, but rather hundreds of family, friends and complete strangers who hear his story and open their hearts, homes and wallets to support his annual Christmas Run for the Needy.
“I have neighbors that say, ‘Here’s $100, I’m paying for the U-Haul this year,’” Chase said. “Even in lean years, no one has ever stopped giving. Neighbors and co-workers go out of their way to buy special toys for these kids, which is the backbone of the whole thing. None of these people have to, but they do.”
This Christmas Day will mark Chase’s 20th year visiting the Detroit families, and judging by the support and donations he has received so far, he expects this year to be the best to date.
“It was by mistake that I saw how they really are down there and how proud they are, but once it’s in you you’re never going to stop,” Chase said. “A lot of them are proud. They’re working hard. They’ve just had a bad break in life. You get to know their names and faces and they are counting on you. They don’t forget you.”
And Chase doesn’t forget them.
From the 19-year-old girl he held as a baby who is now on her way to college, to the cocaine addict who returns year after year to help distribute the donations, Chase knows the name and story of each and every person who approaches his truck and, in many cases, has an item or two set aside just for them.
“I got to know the people down there as it grew,” Chase said. “If there are special needs for certain ones, I’ll set aside something just for them. I have a man who rides his bike up there every year to help me out. This year he’s getting a new bike.”
Year round Chase searches for items to fill the U-Haul, and in the weeks leading to Christmas Day, he turns to local catering companies, bakeries and grocery stores to provide the fresh food the families can use to make a special Christmas dinner.
“We set up separate tables for the food, toys and clothes, and I’m always in the exact same spot,” Chase said. “When the kids come out, they all have to wear a jacket. I put a pole up in the U-Haul and they all come in and get a jacket. After the kids leave the parents come in and take what they need in terms of clothes. They are very proud.”
And though Chase brings hundreds of items every year, not one shirt, toy or can of soup remains in the truck on the ride home.
This Christmas Day, Chase will be joined by his immediate family, whose continued support remains a point of pride for him.
“They didn’t have big deal to do with it in the beginning, then they asked me if they could start helping me,” he said. “I wanted them to want to come down, not be forced to. They are all in on it this year and they work their butts off.”
Though Christmas Day is only a few weeks away, Chase is still looking for donations.
“If you have something you’ll think they need, contact me, I’ll come over and get it,” he said. “If I’ve got the gas, I’m going. It doesn’t matter if its big or small, because they need it all.”
Chase can be contacted at 586-228-1188 or 586-214-3656. Donations can also be left on the front porch of 17352 Ringneck Drive in Macomb Township.
- Canned goods, boxed food, candy
- Gently used toys (with working batteries or extra batteries please)
- New toys
- Gift certificates to places such as McDonald's
- Used clothes/all sizes for men, women and children (only good condition please)
- Hats, gloves, coats, shoes (all sizes)
- Small appliances and kitchen utensils/plates/cups
- Comforters, bedding, sheets, pillows, blankets
- Paper products (napkins, toilet paper, cleaning supplies, laundry detergent)
- Any new or used TVs or DVD players
- Bikes, skateboards, children's riding toys