Here comes Santa Claus

Santa doesn’t look much different than the homeless people seated around him.

John Ratkov is at the Crossroads soup kitchen on West Grand Boulevard on a cold, misty afternoon, wearing a torn flannel coat with the stuffing poking out, faded baggy jeans and an old frumpy hat.

But to those gathered here for a meal, he stands out. His stout build, his bushy white beard and his long white hair have earned him the nickname Santa Claus among them. His looks aren’t the only reason, though.

Every Sunday, all year long, volunteers here pack up dozens of brown-bagged lunches for him to deliver to the homebound poor. Nobody gave him this task; it’s something he came up with on his own.

Ratkov worked for years in recycling, spent some time in prison, and when he got out he began serving others by giving rides, delivering lunches, visiting the lonely. It was partly to give him something to do, and perhaps partly to redeem his lost years. He’s taken it upon himself to visit the worst parts of the inner city, places where the safety net and civic order have essentially collapsed, where someone like him is often all that stands between them and sheer desperation.

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