Santa Mike: Celebrating Over 50 Years with Marillac St. Vincent
Connecting Communities | December 2021
Mike Sturch, better known around Marillac St. Vincent as “Santa Mike,” began working with the St. Vincent DePaul Center by distributing toys to children in 1970. Now, 51 years later, the arrival of Santa Mike is a highly anticipated event for both children and staff. Santa Mike and Marillac St. Vincent know that something as simple as a gift can make all the difference for children and are proud to be able to provide that joy every year.
Even with the changes due to the Pandemic in recent years, Santa Mike, his family, and friends have remained supportive of the Marillac St. Vincent Community during the Holiday Season. We spoke with Santa Mike for a virtual Q&A before he put on his Santa suit this year!
Learn more and donate to the Santa Mike Fund which goes to support all the Santa Mike events during the Holiday Season.
How did you first get involved with Marillac St. Vincent? What attracted you to the organization?
I was driving on LaSalle many years ago, stopped in traffic near St. Vincent DePaul Orphanage where I saw kids playing outside. It was the start of the holiday season, and I was about to become a father. Since I didn’t have a father growing up, I really felt for these kids playing at the orphanage and wanted to offer a simple kindness to them. I went inside and spoke to the head nun at the time to see what I could do. We decided to offer a Christmas party for these kids where I would dress up as Santa and pass out the gifts that were donated for them. I arrived with my full costume, walked in and someone said, “Hey kids, here is Santa Mike!”. The name stuck and we have continued the tradition these past 51 years.
To someone brand new to the organization, how would you describe Santa Mike and all that you do?
It’s all about giving back. It started as a Christmas party for kids but has grown tremendously. I have been fortunate in my life to be able to give back and as the years went on, my friends and family wanted to support this cause as well. They helped volunteer, donate, and even wear the Santa outfit. We started a Senior Dinner every year to follow the Children Christmas Party and over 400 people joined in recent years. We even started a homeless outreach during the holiday season that included a dinner, gear give away and stations for health checks as well. The first outreach program started with barely six people, our most recent one had over 700 in attendance!
Has it really been over 50 years as Santa Mike? That is quite an accomplishment. What are some highlights of your time with Marillac St. Vincent?
There are so many things that have been memorable for me. A major highlight was the creation of the new St. Vincent DePaul Center 20 years ago. This greatly helped expand the offerings for Marillac St. Vincent and the Santa Mike events during the holiday season. But I am most grateful for all the people I have encountered over the past 51 years. I have met so many wonderful, caring, and generous people and that is the main reason I keep coming back each year.
Tell us a little more about the Santa Mike Fund. When and how was this started? What are some of the items that it goes to support?
The Santa Mike Fund started about 26 years ago. I was working at the Board of Trade and many of my friends and colleagues interested in Santa Mike and Marillac St. Vincent would donate and get involved each year. There was one donor that made a big pledge so Santa Mike could live on in perpetuity and we created the Fund. We start our fundraising around Thanksgiving with a letter of appeal and receive donations up until mid-January. In addition to supporting the events I mentioned above including the Children Christmas Party with Santa Mike, the Senior Dinner and the Homeless Outreach, the Santa Mike Fund has helped the food depository and even the Fleur De Lis Ball where we auctioned off the role of Santa for the Santa Mike Children Christmas Party.
Are there any areas of growth that you see with the role of Santa Mike?
The growth has been great, but these last few years with the virus has been tough. I am in my mid-seventies along with my most of my friends who are involved with the Santa Mike Holiday Events. It is amazing to see how our kids and now grandkids help during recent years. But we had to cancel the events last year and most of the ones this year. The social component is so important for these events as well as for the fundraising, that is something we greatly miss. We were grateful to have a socially distanced Santa Mike this year, although even Santa has to wear a mask to stay safe! See the photos above of Kevin McGhee as Santa Mike at MSV.
As for future fundraising, I see a growth opportunity with established companies donating and sponsoring different holiday events as part of the Santa Mike Fund. This can be easier than only relying on individual donations and more companies are looking for agencies like Marillac St. Vincent to support. These events have grown a lot, which is amazing since we can help more people in the community.
I am also very excited for my family to continue the tradition and legacy of Santa Mike. My wife Diane has been a huge support these last 51 years and my three kids have also been involved. I imagine my daughter Jennifer and her husband Chris, along with my two sons Daniel and Ryan, with their wives Christine and Chrissy, will continue to grow Santa Mike in support with Marillac St. Vincent.
It has changed my life for the better – giving back to the community and getting to know the wonderful people of Marillac St. Vincent Family Services.
Donate to the Santa Mike Fund to help support the Marillac St. Vincent Community.
Learn more about ways to donate, volunteer or work at MSV.