James D. Rielly Foundation Helps Santa Visit Those in Need

Bristol resident Michael Rielly spreads Christmas cheer by making appearances as Santa Claus in Rhode Island for local children or families in need.

There’s a real life Santa Claus living right here in Rhode Island. Michael Rielly is from Bristol, Rhode Island, and he donates his time and talent to those who are in need by making appearances as Santa Claus.

Representing Santa is a Rielly family tradition that was started by Michael’s grandfather, James D. Rielly, during the Great Depression. In 2017, Michael established a nonprofit in his grandfather’s name to preserve his legacy and continue his work of spreading holiday cheer. According to the James D. Rielly Foundation website, jdrfoundation.org,  “In 1927 at the age of nineteen, Jim Rielly appeared as Santa Claus for a family living in an abandoned chicken coop. For more than sixty years, he would bring cheer to orphanages, hospitals, nursing homes, schools, churches, charitable organizations, military bases and the Rhode Island State House.”

After Jim Rielly died in 1991, grandson Michael Rielly took over the tradition. Michael’s first appearance as the Jolly Old Elf was actually in the third grade in 1971, and now, forty-eight years later, he’s known around the Ocean State and Southeastern Massachusetts for bringing joy to those who need it.

If you know a child or family that is facing undue hardship, or a military family, children of a veteran or a first responder who are struggling to make ends meet and may be in need of a little Christmas cheer, nominate them for a visit from Santa. Nonprofits and offices can also request visits. Michael does not accept any payment for visits. All donations go to the James D. Rielly Foundation in support of the mission to bring joy to those who need it. The foundation chooses up to three special children, families or individuals dealing with hardship and provides them a magical holiday experience that they will remember for the rest of their lives.

Who better to represent Santa than someone who has his Bachelors of Santa Clausology from the St. Nicholas Institute and the International University of Santa Claus, and a Masters in Santa Clausology from the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School? Learn more about Michael Rielly in our Rhode Island Monthly story from a few years ago.

To nominate someone, fill out the form, and provide as much detail as possible on why your nominee is deserving. Submitting the form does not guarantee selection. You can also donate to the cause.

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