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Real-life Santa hospitalized after making donations to feed the hungry
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Les Reile, the man who cares for others first. - photo by GLENN KAHL

This is my observation of a real-life Santa Claus who continues to touch the hearts of his fellow Mantecans despite a recent medical setback – a true community hero.

Les Reile made a difference in feeding the hungry in the South County at Thanksgiving with $6,000 of his own money, and now he’s looking forward to Christmas – from his hospital bed – to do what he can “for all those little children.”

Reile was in ICU at a local hospital yesterday suffering from severe pulmonary distress, and all he could say was that he needed to get better soon and be back on his feet within two weeks so that he can take care of the youngsters who otherwise might not find anything under the tree.  He has been confined there since Saturday night when he gave up looking for an open pharmacy to help his labored breathing and settled instead for the hospital emergency room.

My friend obviously was still not concerned about himself when I visited him Wednesday afternoon – only troubled by how his illness was going to conflict with what he could do for others saying, “Christmas is coming in just a few weeks and I need to get out of here.”

It struck me that he was talking with the words you might expect from the real Santa.

I wasn’t sure I would be able to see him in the intensive care ward, but after picking up the wall telephone in the hall and calling the nurses’ station, I was invited inside.  Having to put on a yellow gown was standing policy – not a problem.  What made my day was seeing Les open his eyes at the urging of his nurse and with him immediately looking so appreciative that I was there to see him.  He has only a few visitors because he has a very small family and they live miles away besides beign limited by their own handicaps.

I met Les at Doctors Hospital of Manteca one day when he was frequenting the Coffee Shack off the main lobby carrying on a conversation with its colorful vendor, Ali. He seemed to know pretty much everybody on staff.  He had been a regular there when his wife Giesela was fighting for her life during the summer – coming back almost on a daily basis over the fall months to chat with the staff that befriended him during the love of his life’s many stays.  A mutual love and respect grew from day one in the medical community, as it did with the Manteca District Ambulance personnel that also witnessed his deep appreciation for their caring for his wife in many medical trips. The firm received a check for $1,000 as a show of his gratitude.

Les is a storyteller with his vast resources of knowledge and wisdom that only an 87-year-old grandfather can muster and make anyone want to listen.

His walking has become difficult, aided by a wheeled walker, but that hasn’t seemed to slow him down any.  It was with that walker and with the OnStar in his car that he sought out the food banks in the South County and the Interfaith Ministries in Stockton and in Ripon in his attempt to feed as many of the hungry for Thanksgiving as he possibly could – what his late wife would have wanted, he insisted.

It was money they had saved for their dream trip to Spain.

You might call Les a natural “people person” because it’s easy to see that while chatting with a person, you can see a glint in his eyes which is an unmistakable sign he is enjoying the conversation and the give-and-take process involved.

When I entered his hospital room,  it was clear to see he felt all alone once again in his environment, the way he felt when his wife passed away. He accomplished what he had set out to do in having friends recognize that she was part of his giving to help others as he has done his entire life from his days in the U.S. Army to his sometimes lonely position only senior citizens can understand.  In doing, so he made others feel a part of her life, too.

His friend Ali, who runs the Coffee Shack off the hospital lobby, and I won’t miss a day in letting him know we care – we hope others, including the countless homeless he fed, might think about sending him a get-well card.  Les Reile needs to know he stands tall in our hearts and minds.  After all, he might easily be seen as something of a living legend himself and a virtual Hallmark Card in his own right by his undying caring for others.

Cards can be sent to Les Reile at Doctors Hospital, Manteca, 1205 East North Street, Manteca, CA, 95336.