Leominster Man Shares ‘that Giving Spirit’ to Make Christmas Bright
LEOMINSTER -- He started to grow the beard five years ago.
It was November and Jack Hoover, former owner of Halloween Costume World in Fitchburg, had just got done with his store’s busiest season.
“I was working non-stop for two months, just 24-7. After that, I normally take a break for a week and sleep for three days,” he said. “I stopped shaving and it started growing in. I thought I’d just let it go and see what happens. By Christmas it was twice as big.”
That beard has since turned white, as has the hair atop Hoover’s head. He wears a set of wire-rimmed glasses, too. The physical metamorphosis into Santa Claus may have only begun five years ago, but it’s been more than a decade since Hoover started acting the part.
He’s made the Christmases of countless local children possible in the last 13 years by collecting gifts through Toys for Tots, but this year very well could be his last.
With his store now permanently closed and his home in foreclosure, Hoover is uncertain whether he can carry on his annual tradition.
“I’ve got six cents in my bank account and a dollar in my pocket, but I hope my situation can help others,” he said.
Hoover pressed on with Friday evening as the night where people can drop off toys at his home. The house, a 160-year-old mansion formerly owned by local industry magnate F.A. Whitney, has been decorated for the occasion.
Nutcrackers guard the front door. A team of Santa statuettes line the main stairway. There are “three and a half” Christmas trees scattered throughout the house, he says, but you have to navigate a maze of lights, reindeer, and snowmen to get to them.
Hoover may have made his living off Halloween, but he confides that Christmas has become his favorite holiday.
“Halloween I enjoy because it’s almost like Christmas in that you’re dealing with people. You’re bringing them something they want but might not be able to find somewhere else,” he said. “With Christmas, it’s just a little more heartwarming in that giving spirit.”
That giving spirit is what kindled his love of Christmas as a child.
“When I was a kid, my dad was in the Army and my family had nothing. We grew up on North Street in Fitchburg and the Salvation Army helped us out back then,” said Hoover. “Here it is, 50 to 60 years later and I’m able to turn that around and give back.”
Hoover’s generosity has also inspired others. A wall in the front entryway of his home is plastered with various certificates and commendations he’s received for his work, but there’s also a photo of three young boys taken several years ago. The group of 8-year-olds had spent the year saving up money so that they too could buy gifts to donate to Hoover’s toy drive.
As many as 100 gifts are donated each year on average. Six years ago marked the largest number ever, which Hoover described as “three trucks full.” Given that this could be the last year of his winter wonderland, he hopes to set a new personal record.
Despite his recent setbacks, a certain Yuletide whimsy still surrounds Hoover. He admits the loss of his store and potential loss of his house hurt, but he spends much more time talking about how fortunate he’s been to have friends, neighbors, and family supporting him.
“It’s things like that that have pulled me up and out,” he said. “Even though I’ve had some rough times, I’m very fortunate.”
Follow Peter Jasinski on Twitter @PeterJasinski53.