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Non-Profit Set To Graduate Santas For Holiday Season

NEW YORK (CBS 2/1010 WINS) – Three years ago, Robert Barber was homeless.

These days, it's different. Barber has a lot to smile about after finding the Volunteers of America program that helps Vietnam veterans get back on their feet.

How are they doing that? By sending the veterans to Santa school.

Sidewalk Santas started training this week in classes on the Upper West Side, CBS 2's Cindy Hsu reports, and the folks who don the red and white suits are learning how to suit up, stuff their bellies, get those beards on straight and give a great "Ho, ho, ho!"

When asked how it feels to be in the Santa Claus suit, Barber said it was a lot better than his homeless days.

"Right now, very hot, [but] I have a bigger smile than when I walked in here," Barber said.

Santas are even learning how to ring the bell, 1010 WINS' Terry Sheridan reports.

"So you don't want to have it over your head, you don't want to smack anybody in the face," one bell teacher said.


LISTEN: 1010 WINS' Terry Sheridan reports

Many of the sidewalk Santas are employees of the non-profit, which volunteers to help collection donations. The money goes to the food voucher program so families in need won't need to rely on soup kitchens and food pantries for their holiday meal.

"Rather than give them a basket of food to people in need for the holidays, we're giving them a voucher that they can use as cash for food only in local grocery stores," said Rachel Weinstein, of Volunteers of America. "Our Santas will know how to ho, ho, ho. They're going to know how to get dressed properly. They're going to know everything they need to go out."

Many of these Santas have success stories, too. Take John Galbo for example.

Galbo fought drug addiction, lived on the street for 14 years and had nothing.

Now, he's been clean and sober for more than a decade, works as a homeless shelter supervisor and helps teach the new Santa's Helpers.

"They cared when nobody else did. I get emotional when I talk about Volunteers of America because they saved my life," Galbo said.

Santa's Helpers will hit the streets on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, and they'll be wearing white belts, instead of the black one -- reserved for the one and only St. Nick.

For more information, click here.

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