Joe Wielgot plays Santa Claus at many events in and around St. Clair Shores.

Joe Wielgot plays Santa Claus at many events in and around St. Clair Shores.

Photo by Alyssa Ochss

St. Clair Shores resident brings joy to those in need as volunteer

Meet Joe Wielgot

By: Alyssa Ochss | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published May 9, 2024


ST. CLAIR SHORES — Joe Wielgot, a St. Clair Shores resident, plays Santa Claus numerous times during the Christmas season, and he said he doesn’t do it for money.

Playing Santa is one of the many things Wielgot does. He is a member of the Optimist Club of St. Clair Shores, where they make food baskets for those in need, give bikes to less fortunate children and raise money for scholarships for those who need them. He is also a member of the St. Clair Shores Housing Commission.

Wielgot said he’s always volunteered. As a child, he volunteered as a Scout, and around 35 years ago when he moved to the Shores, he involved himself in the city.

“I moved to St. Clair Shores, I got involved in the parade, you know,” Wielgot said. “People called you to do stuff, and you just started doing it.”

His wife is also involved in the Optimist Club and dresses up as Mrs. Claus with him. As Santa Claus, he visits other nearby cities and places such as schools to greet children and others who want to talk to the jolly man in the red suit.

“You get to see the kids’ faces and it’s fun,” Wielgot said. “You get to hear everything they want and they want to do.”

The club prepares the food baskets during the holiday season, and Wielgot said they can supply a family with food for up to a full week. They make around 12-16 baskets a year that they hand out to families. Wielgot said he’s in the retail food business.

“We gather up all the food and we get all (of the food) in one spot, and everybody in the Optimist Club would come along,” Wielgot said. “And we’d box it up so that everybody got a week’s worth of food, and we’d actually deliver it to the house.”

For this project as well as the bike project, they ask the local school districts for children or families in need so they can supply them with the items.

The Optimist Club of St. Clair Shores, Wielgot said, also hosts fundraisers such as a golf outing to raise money for their scholarships. These scholarships are given to students who face adversity, whether it’s personal medical issues, issues in their home life or anything else. The money can be used for whatever the students want, including college and trade schools.

Wielgot said in the Optimist Club, it’s everyone volunteering instead of just one person.

“When you’re volunteering, that’s what it’s all about, is doing it with a group. You don’t do it all yourself,” Wielgot said. “You can do things, but when you make an impact, it’s more with a group of people.”

He’s been volunteering as Santa Claus for around 30 years.

“We don’t do it for money, we never take money,” Wielgot said. “We only do it for nonprofits, schools, hospitals.”

He said they don’t do it to make money.

“A lot of groups can’t afford to hire somebody to come out and do that,” Wielgot said.

Even when organizations and cities offer Wielgot money for his time, he refuses and says to give it to the Optimists or other charitable organizations.

“We go, ‘No, take the money and donate it to your special needs in your city,’” Wielgot said. “We don’t take the money.”

Wielgot said his wife and he have a lot of fun volunteering, and that there are many ways to help someone who is less fortunate.

“You have a fun time doing it, you feel good doing it,” Wielgot said. “You hopefully make it easier for somebody.”

While his wife is retired, Wielgot is still working.

“You get off work and you go do stuff, and you get home later and you get up and do it again,” Wielgot said. “But you get rewarded because you know somebody had a better day because you were there.”

Though Wielgot doesn’t have a specific memory he loves the most, he remembers all the fun he’s had while volunteering with other people in the club and with other groups.

“Even though sometimes you might be going, ‘Oh, man. What am I doing?’” Wielgot said.

“You know in the end, especially when you look back at how much fun, how many people you met, how many people you became friends with. It’s a good experience. It’s a good life experience. You meet people that become your friends for life. It’s fun.”