Santa keeps busy during the holiday season, but unfortunately, many of the letters that children send him go unanswered. 

That’s why native Evanstonian Richard Gentile founded Santa for a Day (SFAD), a public charity that collects letters from disadvantaged children, and shares them with donors, who purchase gifts for the children. 

The charity now features a pop-up location in Evanston, at 710 Church Street, the former Williams Shoes location. Gentile, Mayor Biss and other community members celebrated the opening of the pop-up with a ribbon-cutting on November 19. 

The space was donated by Jim Nash, the property owner, who was connected to Gentile with help from Downtown Evanston. It will be utilized as a gift-wrapping headquarters and distribution center. The windows are painted by local muralist Teresa Parod, and the pop-up is located in a high-traffic area, which Gentile hopes will help raise awareness for Santa for a Day. 

Gentile came up with the idea for Santa for a Day more than 20 years ago, when he entered a post office on December 23. Letters to Santa were on display, and after speaking to a clerk, Gentile discovered the post office had received more than 10,000 letters, of which only about 100 were answered. 

“It just kind of broke my heart,” said Gentile. His children were young at the time, and his home sparkled with the “magic of the holidays,” so the unanswered letters felt particularly heartbreaking, he said. That’s when he came up with the idea of Santa for a Day, to help serve children during the holidays.

“It’s really about connecting people with disposable income with retailers and kids in need,” said Gentile. The charity partners with the Chicago Housing Authority to help reach underserved families. 

Community members hoping to donate or get involved can learn more at

Adina Keeling

Adina Keeling is a photojournalist and reporter, covering city news, sustainability, schools, and art. She also investigates mental health systems and environmental injustices in Evanston, and puts together...