MESA, Ariz. — In his first at-bat of the Game Day USA Junior All-American Games, Sam Love faced an 0-2 count with the bases loaded. Love fouled off a few before finding his money pitch.
He roped a line drive down the left field line for a bases-clearing double.
The fight he showed at the place defines his life off the field. Every day, Love fights for kids around the world.
The 13-year-old Chicago native is the founder of his own charity, a relief effort he started when he was only 9.
The organization, Samta Love, features an annual toy drive and year-round donation site that sends toys at Christmas to children affected by natural disasters. He was given the nickname Samta Claus during an event with Walmart when an employee compared his work to that of the Christmas gift-giver.
Love’s relationship with Walmart started in 2014 during a “The Today Show” segment with Jenna Bush Hager and Matt Lauer. During the segment, a local representative informed Sam that in honor of his work, the store would give a gift to every child that hung a wish on their wishing trees.
Love’s father, Victor, said the idea of Sam starting his own toy drive stemmed from the heart of a young boy who was moved by the news of Hurricane Sandy.
“We had just had a big birthday party for him that we went all out for. Then he was telling me he wanted a Christmas party,” Victor said. “I was like, ‘No we’re done with parties for this year.’ He said, ‘No, dad it’s not for me, I see on the news the kids in Hurricane Sandy and they had just lost everything. I want to have a Christmas party to give toys to those kids.’ ”
Sam didn’t think starting his own toy drive was a big deal. Little did he know the drive would be going six years strong, collecting nearly 20,000 gifts along the way.
In the toy drive’s first year, Love was able to collect 800 toys to be donated to those in need in New York. Love’s efforts didn’t go without help. His grandmother, Josephine Wade, who owns legendary Chicago restaurant Josephine’s Cooking, was his first sponsor.
“He didn’t want anything for Christmas,” Wade said. “He only wanted to help.”
After the drive’s successful first year in 2012, Sam and his father were invited to New York by CNN’s Anderson Cooper, who had heard about the young boy’s efforts and wanted an interview.
From there, the support from the community expanded.
As the organization grew, Victor Love decided it was time to bring in help from outside of the family. He remains involved with the organization and his son’s passion to help others.
“I’m just a father who has invested a lot in my son,” Love said. “As long as these types of situations keep happening, we’re going to make sure he can meet this need somewhere.”
This year, Sam decided his charity would donate its gifts to children living in Houston and Puerto Rico who were affected by Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Maria.
Acquiring enough toys for kids in both of these areas will not be an easy task. He believes his involvement in competitive baseball will aid his efforts.
“It helps with a lot of different opportunities,” he said. “When you play baseball at an elite level you get to meet more people and go certain places. If you tell people about what you are doing off the field they can help you because they already have connections.”
Sam’s teammates also play a big role with his mission, often volunteering their time to the charity.
The young philanthropist kick-started his 2017 campaign while competing in the Junior All-American games last weekend at Sloan Park, the spring training home of the Chicago Cubs.
During the opening ceremony for the event and over the course of a three-game schedule, Sam and his family handed out fliers and spoke to families about the charity and its goal.
Love was also joined in his efforts by a large group of Arizona-based businesses and community leaders, including Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams and Cloves Campbell Jr., the co-publisher and COO of the Arizona Informant newspaper.
While the weekend-long event was just the start of his outreach, Love has high hopes for setting the charity record in donations and is eyeing $15,000 in total donation.
The need for support in Houston and Puerto Rico is greater than in years past, Love said.
The cost of shipping toys is particularly expensive, Victor Love said, but “the need is getting greater. We didn’t reach out to Puerto Rico, they reached out to us.”
Despite Sam’s passion for baseball, his father believes his giving is fueled by more that personal fulfillment. He also said the harsh conditions within the Chicago inner city plays a role in Sam’s decision-making.
“Coming from a place like Chicago, violence can run a little rampant,” Sam’s father said.
Love’s passion for community outreach does not stop at the holidays. He hopes in the future his organization can help support others year-round.
“What kind of world would it be without people that care,” Victor Love said.
During the 2014 “Good Morning America”episode, Lauer said he had the feeling that he’d be hearing about Sam for years to come. It’s almost four years later and Samta Claus is still an important name to children in need.
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