BY TOM DALTON
---- — SALEM — From its humble beginnings inside the generous soul of Charlie Walsh, the leprechaun who used to run Carlton School, the Salem Children’s Charity has grown into one of the city’s most cherished institutions.
Over the last five years alone, it has raised more than $100,000, every penny of which has gone to children and families in need. The money pays for summer camps, after-school programs, gift cards at Christmas, support during emergencies and more.
Most of that money is raised at the annual Christmas party, which will be held Tuesday night starting at 5 at Victoria Station, the Pickering Wharf restaurant that does itself proud every year by opening its doors for this good cause.
The place will be packed, so get there early and stuff your pockets with cash. There are more than 100 auction and raffle items, including golf packages at Salem Country Club, Kernwood and Salem Municipal.
The $15 admission gets you appetizers, a big buffet and a chance to rub shoulders with celebrities.
It’s a great crowd of aging athletes, caring cops, pontificating politicians and talkative teachers, all with big hearts.
The Children’s Charity got off to a running start this week at the retirement party of school administrator Christine Fernandes, who donated her retirement “gift” to the charity. That gift represents the money collected from fellow teachers and staff, which often totals several hundred dollars.
Moments after Fernandes made her surprise announcement, her husband, Bernardo, announced that he would match it. What a nice present.
’Tis the season
There must be something in the air this month because Salem is outdoing itself in thoughtful and generous acts.
On Wednesday night, Collins Middle School held a beach party to raise funds for the American Red Cross Hurricane Sandy relief fund.
This was only one of several local efforts to help out victims from New York and New Jersey. Pretty impressive.
The biggest of the local events was at Finz restaurant, where $7,000 was raised. The fundraiser was sponsored by Social Palates, a local marketing firm, and the restaurant.
Along those lines, Go Out Loud, a networking organization for the area’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, has really stepped up.
Formed a year ago, the group held a holiday party last week at Victoria Station that packed the place. Guests donated more than 660 canned goods and nonperishable items to the Salem Pantry, a food program run out of The First Universalist Society of Salem on Bridge Street.
The Give Out Loud campaign rewards donors with a holiday pride pass, which can be used for discounts and deals at about 50 local retailers. Collections will continue throughout the month.
There was a letter in the paper this week from a parent who was upset that the school calendar listed celebrations for Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and everything under the sun, but not Christmas.
We asked our crack investigative team to look into this, but they were attending holiday parties and couldn’t get their heads out of the eggnog bowl.
So we did a little digging ourselves and discovered that the only holiday officially recognized by the public schools is “Queensday,” in honor of Mary Manning’s birthday.
Manning, in case you have been living in a hole, is the principal of Collins Middle School. She turns 39 every year.
CinemaSalem co-owner Paul Van Ness launched an online campaign Tuesday to try to raise $60,000 to help save his movie theater. Within hours, the money came pouring in, and as of press time last night, donations totaled more than $35,000.
What a Christmas story. A good guy who helps others needs help himself, and the whole city lines up at his door with bags of money. Why does that sound familiar? Oh yeah, George Bailey in “It’s A Wonderful Life.”
Imagine the excitement at the Salem Theatre Company over the sellout crowd for last Saturday night’s performance of “Reckless,” a Christmas comedy.
Now imagine their disappointment when a party of 11 called to cancel. They couldn’t make it, they said, because they live in Salem, Ore., and just realized the theater was a 3,000-mile drive.
Is there a better salesman than Dick Lutts?
The 89-year-old Mr. Lutts is at it again this year — selling the Salem Rotary calendar. He sells more than any of the young hotshots in the club — 50 or so every year.
“I carry them with me,” he said. “The reason I can sell so many is because older women have got kids ...”
Lutts approaches old friends — women and men — at the YMCA or over at Tabernacle Church and suggests they buy a calendar for their children and grandchildren who have moved away. They love the idea because the calendar is full of great photos of Salem past and present.
This year’s Rotary calendar has beautiful shots of Salem, all taken by member Trip Mason. It costs $20 and is a perfect stocking stuffer. It also benefits a great cause — scholarships for Salem students heading to college.
And it’s a calendar that keeps on giving. Rotary holds a raffle drawing every week, and a lucky calendar purchaser wins $100. That’s 52 chances to win $100 — a lot better odds than Powerball.
The calendars are so popular that Lutts got a letter the other day enclosed with a check. It was from Ralph Osgood from Washington state.
“He grew up in Salem,” Lutts said. “He loves them because it reminds him of home.”
The calendars are on sale at the Hawthorne Hotel, The House of the Seven Gables, Waters & Brown and the Salem Chamber of Commerce.
Tom Dalton can be reached at email@example.com.