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No rest in quest to put smiles on faces

Councilor Salvatore LaMattina, who as a child received gifts from Globe Santa, presented his jolly friend with a $250 donation during a fund-raiser on Hanover Street Saturday. Councilor Salvatore LaMattina, who as a child received gifts from Globe Santa, presented his jolly friend with a $250 donation during a fund-raiser on Hanover Street Saturday. (Mary O’Connor for the Boston Globe)
By Kathleen McKenna
Globe Correspondent / December 20, 2011
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People streaming in and out of the Improv Asylum on Hanover Street during the club’s 24-hour Globe Santa fund-raiser over the weekend were greeted by two local celebrities: Globe Santa and Salvatore LaMattina, a Boston city councilor whose district includes the North End.

Many stopped for a photo session with Santa, or with Santa and LaMattina, a well-known figure on the streets of Boston and particularly in the North End. But even the constituents who know LaMattina well may not have been aware of the significance of their councilor’s pairing with the jolly, bearded guy in the red suit. When LaMattina was growing up in East Boston, he and his brothers were yearly recipients of Globe Santa gifts. In part because of that connection to his childhood, LaMattina donates each year to the 55-year-old Globe Santa program.

But this was the first year that Globe Santa realized that the councilor’s name had once been on his long list of needy children who receive holiday gifts thanks to donations from the public.

On Saturday afternoon, LaMattina appeared at the Improv Asylum, which first offered its space, its sidewalk, and the talents of its hard-working comics when they came up with the concept for the “No Rest for the Wicked Funny’’ fund-raiser seven years ago. Since then, the club’s owners, crew, and cast have turned the event into a beloved tradition, and increased the donation they make to Globe Santa by more than tenfold.

“I wanted to be here so I could help them raise some money, and also because I wanted to say thank you,’’ LaMattina said. “As a little kid, I always looked forward to receiving toys from Globe Santa, and we always did, every year. Without Globe Santa, we probably wouldn’t have had any presents under our tree.’’

He recalled that many of the families in what was then a poor neighborhood relied on Globe Santa. LaMattina and his brothers were raised by their single mother, who each year wrote a letter to the Globe, then had it signed by the local parish priest before sending it off. He was the eldest of the boys, so he also remembered how Globe Santa helped his mother keep the magic of Christmas alive for his younger brothers.

“I know for a fact that a single mother living on public assistance doesn’t have extra income to buy toys,’’ he said. “And I love that the Globe keeps this tradition alive.’’

At one point, Alycia Brain, front-end manager for Improv Asylum, stepped outside to greet LaMattina and share that she and her siblings had their childhoods brightened by Globe Santa gifts, too.

“For all these years,’’ LaMattina said as he shook her hand, “this program has been making a huge difference.’’

As LaMattina chatted with passersby, actors inside the Improv Asylum were hard at work entertaining ticket holders, who were welcome to come and go throughout the 24-hour show. (On Friday night, the theater was filled to capacity, and people were being turned away.)

By the time LaMattina visited, the cast had been performing spontaneous comedy for 17 hours, with regular breaks for appearances by celebrities, including chef Dante de Magistris, who performed a cooking demonstration, then fed the crowd; and actor David Eigenberg, best known for his portrayal of Steve Brady on “Sex and the City.’’

But even when the celebs took the stage, the Improv actors stayed involved, tossing out questions and cracking jokes. Given their enthusiasm, high spirits, and hilarity, one would never have known the cast was operating with little sleep.

With five hours and one of three live auctions remaining, one actor announced that the marathon event had already raised more than $30,000 for Globe Santa, which meant last year’s total had been exceeded. (This year’s event ultimately raised more than $40,000.) Then he and his fellow improvisers launched into skits on audience-suggested topics ranging from baseball to pen pals to agoraphobia.

“I thinks it’s really important for people to know about this event, and about this program, and how much it means,’’ LaMattina said after posing with a pair of senior citizens who kissed his cheek before accepting their photos and dropping a few dollars into Globe Santa’s donation jar.

“My brothers and I are all so grateful to Globe Santa,’’ he said. “We never had a lot of money growing up, but my mother always made sure we had a great Christmas and great memories, thanks to Globe Santa.’’

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