RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) – The spirit of the holidays is everywhere.
It is especially present in the home of 60-year-old Frank Hastings, where dressing up to play Santa for children has become a 30-year family tradition.
“It sort of kicks off the Christmas season for me,” Hastings says.
While the drive to his first destination, the Virginia Home for Boys and Girls, is just a few miles from Frank’s Glen Allen home, it feels like a much longer one. Frank says at times, it feels painful too.
Frank lived in the Virginia Home for Boys from the age of 14 to 18.
“My father was particularly abusive,” Frank says. “It was just a difficult situation.”
Frank’s father played the well-known Santa at the Sears Department Store on West Broad Steet in the 1960’s. While Christmas was sometimes magical for the Hastings, the joy didn’t last.
Frank says he spent his early years bouncing in and out of relatives’ homes and foster homes, before settling in the Virginia Home when he was a teenager.
The Virginia Home for Boys gave Frank the stability and confidence that he’d been missing for most of his childhood.
“We had a house mother and we had 12 kids in a cottage, so it worked out well,” Hastings says.
In his late teens, Frank was serving as an X-ray tech and medic in Vietnam as a member of the U.S. Army.
By the age of 30, he had a thriving career at the McGuire Veteran’s hospital and a growing family.
Eager to give back and to reconcile his past, Frank says he jumped at the opportunity to play Santa when asked by the Virginia Home 30 years ago.
While Frank says he’s played Santa for friends and family members over the years, he says this is the first year that he’s volunteered for a non-profit organization, other than the Virginia Home, that helps children and families.
Frank says he was compelled to help Ashland Supportive Housing after reading an editorial in the Richmond Times-Dispatch written by an 8-year-old homeless boy.
“I wrote him a letter,” Frank says before breaking down in tears. “I wanted him to think that it wasn’t that bad and that he would get through it and things would be better later on. Like they have been for me.”
In response, Ashland Supportive Housing asked Frank to play Santa at a nearby motel for several homeless children and their families this past week.
“It sort of touches your heart to see some of these things and what people are going through,” Franks says.
Frank says seeing the faces of happy children makes his efforts all worthwhile.
Despite his painful past and ongoing battle with Parkinson’s Disease, Frank says he’ll continue spreading holiday cheer to children who are walking in his shoes.
“I feel so fortunate for all the things I have.”