The way Chris DiGuido sees it there’s a reason Al’s Angels, the Westport-based nonprofit helping children and families, features her husband’s name, not hers.
“He does ‘big picture,’” she says, taking a break from serving customers at Saugatuck Sweets, the couple’s popular ice cream-and-candy mecca on Riverside Avenue. “I sort of follow after – doing the thank-you notes, the organizing. He’ll see a problem and say, ‘we’re going to do this to help’ and I just fill in a lot of the blanks.
That’s just the kind of humble understatement you’re likely to hear from Chris, a woman who many say is the lead angel in the nonprofit’s name. In fact, Al is the first to extoll the boundless energy and compassion he found in the woman he married almost 44 years ago.
“Chris has been committed to Al’s Angels from the very first moment that the idea was inspired, almost 25 years ago,” he says. “It is that love of children that has kept her committed all of these years. Her love has no reservations or limitations. She has always treated the children that we serve like her own.”
With a background in marketing and three children and seven grandchildren, Chris is officially vice president of Al’s Angels, which strives to lessen the burdens of children and families battling cancer, rare blood diseases and severe financial difficulties.
Started in the couple’s garage, the organization has grown as a respected and powerful engine for good, fortified with a stalwart band of volunteers and donors. And they’re making an impact – both locally and globally – in the hearts of those helpers and the health and happiness of recipients, Chris says.
In November 2020, at the height of COVID-19, 150 volunteers packed 1,600 Thanksgiving meal bins for needy families throughout the region.
St. Thomas Aquinas School in Fairfield recently held a Penny Challenge, collecting $2,000 for Al’s Angels. In Norwalk, Al’s Angels volunteers helped stock the food pantry at Room to Grow Preschool to help underserved students.
Trumbull-based BodyShock by Geraldo raised more than $750 to support Angels for Afghanistan, the nonprofit’s drive to provide children’s clothing and essentials for refugee families immigrating to the United States. Another Al’s Angels fundraiser raised more than $114,000 to send a six-year-old with a rare disease to Duke University medical trials that might give his family hope for a brighter future.
While they get many requests, Chris says she and her team try to focus their efforts on families in need in the tri-state area. “The best thing is we usually see the people we’re giving to,” she says. “It’s the closeness.”
As a late-winter sleet storm raged outside, Chris collected bags of medical supplies and hand-knit baby blankets for families in the war-torn Ukraine, far afield but just as worthy, she says. Speaking of the youngsters facing an uncertain future in new lands, she wiped tears from her eyes.
“The last few years have been hard,” she says of recent global unrest and the physical barriers necessary during the pandemic. “It’s fun doing this, but it’s also very sad sometimes. These kids, they didn’t do anything wrong. They’re so innocent. They don’t deserve this kind of thing.”
With spring and summer coming, she was already planning the logistics for holiday hospital visits from St. Vincent’s Medical Center in Bridgeport to North Shore Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park, N.Y., and Union Community Health Center in the Bronx. Sometimes Al stands in for Santa, passing presents to young patients.
Al’s Angels hopes to provide more than 3,200 families and nearly 6,000 children with Thanksgiving, Christmas and Hanukkah meals and gifts this year.
“We do as much as we can and we really feel blessed that we can help,” she says. “It’s a lot of work, but we believe it’s what we should be doing.”
For donations and more information visit AlsAngels.org