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Lights on the Cribari Bridge (Photo: John Videler)

Featured Article

Yes, Westport, There Is a Santa Claus

His name is Al Diguido

Ah, Cribari Bridge: the narrowest fully-functioning bridge in modern society. If Saugatuck is a toothpaste tube full of cars, Cribari is the aperture through which the traffic laboriously squeezes.

Every holiday season Al Diguido and a few helpful folks sparkle up Cribari with thousands of colored lights, making the journey from gridlock to disgorgement almost… festive.

Bringing light to the downtrodden is what Al does. And, yeah, calling luxury cars traversing a traffic clot is a lousy metaphor for “downtrodden,” but work with me.

So why light the bridge? According to Al, “The number one reason I’ve done this all these years is because we need to be a light in the world. There’s enough darkness.”

The darkness to which he’s referring is the families of children with cancer. Families whose lives and finances have been depleted by medical costs and consumed with attending to their sick kids.

His story began 24 years ago when he attended a fundraiser, eager to see a few Giants team members. Toward the end of the evening, several mothers of children with cancer came out to speak, thanking the attendees for their contributions. Al realized the money he had spent on his ticket was going to families who had drained their savings to care for their ill children.

Realistically, it’s tough to fathom that level of need when we live in a town that sells $250 t-shirts. But Al did, and does.

Seeing these women, stripped of privacy and pride, was an epiphany. From that moment forward, he devoted his free time to creating Al’s Angels, a virtual organization with no paid employees, dedicated to raising money and comforts for these families. His ultimate goal: ridding the world of childhood cancer.

When it comes to helping these families, Al kicks it old-school. Though social media enables legions of beneficent individuals and businesses to raise money with relative ease, Al gets gritty filling the bins and hanging the lights and delivering the gifts without selfies or social media to immortalize every move.

The nice guy from Brooklyn with kids and grandkids eschews praise and has a gift for galvanizing people.“God gave me the gift to talk to people, to get people to do this,” he admits. “I’m not benefiting any way but spiritually.” His work ethic and authenticity prove a successful recipe for raising millions of dollars for children and families in need.

While Al’s Angels raise funds from events like Angel-ade Lemonade stands and fundraisers throughout the year, holiday time is when their halos shine brightest (and busiest).

The most famous of these holiday events is the delivery of Thanksgiving dinner. On a Saturday in November Gault clears out its Bridgeport warehouse and Penske trucks deliver fixings for Thanksgiving feasts at 5 a.m. Al and 1,000 volunteers begin packing bins at 6 a.m. and have 2,000 meals ready for delivery by noon.

Volunteers can be anyone, any age. Al has only one rule: treat the task with respect. He’s been known to halt the packing process to remind workers that “each bin represents a family” and should be afforded the proper dignity.

A representative of Stony Brook Cancer Center says of those who load the bins, “They are offering hope, sustenance and the chance to be a family by sharing in food preparation and a meal at home.”

It’s tricky to discern the reason for Al’s philanthropic success. I mean, yes, he’s a great guy. But there are a lot of great people and compelling charitable opportunities in Westport. One donor tried to articulate Al’s Angels’ appeal, stating, “I’m the most cynical *@&# in the world and I give to charities to assuage guilt. But somehow Al’s Angels makes me happy to give to them. He’s found a different way to fill your soul.”

Clearly not the most charming or eloquent of donors, but the statement bears truth. Al has discovered his key to spiritual fulfillment and is inviting everyone to share the experience.

Every year after Thanksgiving dinner, to mark the beginning of the holiday season, he and his family wander down to the Cribari Bridge to shove a plug into an outlet, setting aglow its wrought-iron trusses and startling drivers passing through them.

Next time you’re driving, or stuck, beneath the blazing rafters, realize that each point of illumination tells a story such as this:

A young boys’ baseball team raised $2,000 for Al’s Angels. They excitedly bulldozed into Fairfield’s Saugatuck Sweets to hand their donations to Al. To celebrate, Al gave them all ice cream. They ate, then left the shop. One parent coach hung back to thank him because “He was the recipient of a bin,” Al said. “Sadly, he lost his child.”

Sometimes a light is much more than a lightbulb, and an angel is no more than a person. 

To volunteer or donate to Al's Angels, email or call 203.254.1759.

Al’s Angels and Saugatuck Rowing Club (SRC) are happy to announce the First Official Bridge-Lighting Holiday Festival at the SRC.

The Festival is slated for slated for Friday, November 29 from 6:30-9:30 at SRC. There’ll be music, snacks, drinks, and treats for all ages and, of course, a more formalized bridge lighting. For more information, go to AlsAngels or SaugatuckRowing

  • Filling bins for Thanksgiving dinners.
  • Lights on the Cribari Bridge.
  • Lights on the Cribari Bridge.
  • Lights on the Cribari Bridge (Photo: John Videler)
  • Distributing toys to children.
  • Neighborhood Al's Angel-ade Lemonade stand.