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Say Cheese With Santa: AFT Educator gives back during holiday season

Our educators go above and beyond in many ways to ensure the needs of the students in the Commonwealth are met. Sometimes this means staying after with students, sometimes it means dipping into personal funds to make sure they have supplies, and sometimes it means donning a red suit and spreading some Christmas cheer. 


n 2018, Michael Curley received a phone call from one of his wife’s closest friends. This friend loves Christmas and hosts an annual holiday gathering following Thanksgiving dubbed “Thanksmas,” and this year she was asking if Michael would be interested in donning the role of Old Saint Nick. He said he couldn’t say no to a close friend, and that the chance to play Santa seemed fun. 

He donned a red suit, and his own beard, which he said wasn’t quite “Santa ready” but the kids and winter revelers had a blast all the same. In 2019 he returned with his beard more grown out, and a suit more suitable for Santa. Once again everyone had a wonderful time. At the time Michael and his wife didn’t think much of it except how to make their friend’s party more fun for the family, but the role would become more meaningful to more people in the following year. 

“Then Covid hit…in 2020 we sat around, like most people did, and we lamented the things that were lost for the time being,” Michael said. “As Christmas approached, we thought of all the kids who would not be able to get Santa photos that year, and how disappointing that would be for their parents.”

Then the idea came to them, why not try to find a way to use the newfound role of Santa for some good. Michael

and his wife purchased a backdrop, went to their local Facebook community board and asked if anyone wanted to take socially distant photos with Santa in the Curley’s driveway. 

“We created our own Facebook Group called ‘2020 Santa Photos.’ I wore a face shield, and people wore masks until it was time for the photos to be as safe as possible,” he said. “There was a lovely response. We decided not to ask for money, but to suggest donations that we would use to help people who were in need during this difficult time of year.”

People showed up for the photos, and this led to an idea to host a breakfast with Santa. They partnered with a local restaurant and by the end of their Santa sessions, they had raised a little over $2,000. All of that money went to local causes. 

“We put it into the local food pantry, and we gave some to the Classical High School Secretary. Coula helped Lynn elementary school children in need have a better Christmas,” he said. “We have expenses, but those are taken care of by us. Every single penny donated to us goes directly back to the local community. We are incredibly transparent with what we collect and what we donate.”

The following year the tradition continued and more partnerships ensued. The Santa Project continued to grow, and so too did the donations. “We have had people donate $500 and people who have donated a teddy bear,” Michael said. 

In 2021 they were able to raise just over $7,000, and with that success behind them, the momentum continues forward into today. As the project began in the driveway of their blue house, they decided on the name “The Blue House Santa Project,” and Michael updated the suit, grew out his beard and asked members to invite people who might need them. 

The project has grown in 2022, with Michael saying they had raised more than $5,000 only halfway through the season. They have plans to visit the pediatric ward at his wife’s hospital, as well as plans to play the role of Santa for a special party for a child with special needs. This on top of the regular appointments Santa will be keeping. 

“We did not plan this project, we just saw a need and tried to fill it,” Michael said. “It’s been so well received and we have had so much fun doing it, we can’t imagine stopping.”

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