By Todd Cohen
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — When he was growing up in Union, N.J., Andrew Goldstein spent a lot of time with his grandfather visiting group homes in Brooklyn, N.Y., for children and old people.
His grandfather, who had spent much of his own childhood in an orphanage in Brooklyn, wanted to repay the help he had received while also passing on the importance of “random acts of kindness,” Goldstein says.
So in 1986, when he learned that Alexander Children’s Home in Southeast Charlotte did not have enough money in its annual budget for a Christmas meal for 23 children who lived there, Goldstein fed them for free on Christmas Day at the restaurant he had just opened with his mother-in-law, and gave them toys.
Dubbed the “Jewish Santa” in a news story the next day, Goldstein says he distributed toys to 23,000 children last year and fed three-fourths of them Christmas dinner through deliveries and at his Good Ol’ Days restaurant in the Arboretum shopping center.
“Christmas is only one day a year,” he says. “These children need help all year-round.”
Goldstein’s Good Ol’ Days Christmas program now receives donated items all year from throughout the United States and, with the help of more than 600 volunteers, distributes toys and food to children in the Carolinas, Virginia, Tennessee and Georgia.
All toys are donated and children “get what Santa gives them,” except for those with special disabilities, who can request toys that Goldstein then buys.
Items ranging from toys and books to furniture, clothing and Christmas cards are stored in a 2,000-square-foot warehouse Goldstein leases off W.T. Harris Boulevard and, in the months leading up to Christmas, in 7,000 square feet of space provided to him in the Arboretum by its owner, American Asset Corp.
“I throw nothing away,” he says. “I could find a use for anything.”
That also is a lesson he learned from his grandfather, the late Max Greenberg, who began what became a successful business career after he left the orphanage by building and selling bicycles from parts he found in garbage cans.
And he is able to provide free Christmas dinners because his distributor sells him food at cost.
In fact, he says, he still has not paid for last year’s Christmas dinner, and does not expect to by this Christmas, but his distributor does not mind.
Goldstein’s restaurant staff of 60 works for free on Christmas, and his mother-in-law, Janet Rubin, “lets me get away with doing this.”
Goldstein, who last Sunday served free Christmas dinner to 215 Army reservists headed to Iraq, along with another 400 family members, welcomes donated items and cards, although he asks that donors not include their last names or addresses on the cards.
The notion of a “Jewish Santa,” he says, is not a contradiction in terms.
“The children don’t care what religion I am,” he says.
His goal, he says, is to help people in need, passing forward the lesson he learned from his grandfather.
“I guess I’m always trying to make him realize I’m carrying on what he did his whole life,” Goldstein says.
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