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On his first day back at work, Richard Foster returned
Children in Kingswood show Richard Foster, also known as the 'Summertime Santa,' signs they made for their
Ice cream man Richard Foster gets hugs from children in Spotsylvania's Kingswood subdivision
By PAMELA GOULD
When Victoria Levi read that the "summertime Santa Claus" hadn't been in her neighborhood since mid-July because his ice cream truck had broken down, she started rallying support for the man she calls "one of the good guys."
Neighbor Jennifer Ludwick joined in the effort to help 75-year-old Richard Foster of Spotsylvania County get back on his feet after seeing the Sept. 22 story in The Free Lance-Star. So did countless area customers, strangers and business owners throughout the Fredericksburg area.
"We understand what it's like to hit on hard times, so we wanted to help him," said Levi, who is celebrating five years since her older daughter was declared cancer-free.
Mackenzie Levi, 7, was diagnosed with a brain tumor at 20 months and underwent surgery and chemotherapy.
She, her 6-year-old sister, Grace, and Ludwick's two children, 8-year-old Sean and 12-year-old Sarah, were among a dozen children in Spotsylvania's Kingswood community who ran a lemonade stand to benefit the man they call "Mr. Richard."
Foster, who has run Richard's Ice Cream Express from his 1979 Chevrolet Step Van for nearly 23 years, lost income last summer when the compressor for the freezer on his truck quit working.
He fell behind on his bills, risked losing his home, and sought help from the food pantry at Christ Church at Spotsylvania Courthouse.
But over the past 10 days, people have come together to meet his needs, overwhelming him in the process.
The Kingswood youngsters collected more than $300 in cash and grocery gift cards, which they gleefully gave him last Wednesday.
"I've never been hugged by so many people at the same time," Foster said, surrounded by children. "I feel loved."
At least four local companies that deal with refrigeration systems offered to diagnose or fix the freezer compressor so he could get back on the road. Foster operates the ice cream truck year-round, traveling to neighborhoods and community pools.
He accepted the offer from John Fick of J.F. Fick Inc., an Anheuser-Busch wholesaler in Spotsylvania.
Fick's crew installed a new clutch for free last week after they tried to pull the truck in for service and realized it needed one. And Lynchburg-based Southern Air, which services the refrigeration components on Fick's trucks, fixed the compressor for free.
"It's a shame for the guy to lose his livelihood," Fick said, after hearing of Foster's problem.
'NEVER IN MY LIFE'
Since the Sept. 22 story, scores of people have called Christ Church--which agreed to serve as a contact point--with offers of help. Donations have come in by mail or hand delivery to the Episcopal church, said the rector, the Rev. Jeff Packard.
As of Monday, donations had topped more than $6,000, which was enough for Foster to pay off his debts and cover his rent through December.
Before word got out about Foster's plight, he thought he would have to sell his belongings to make his rent payments, or possibly move.
His Social Security check is his only income other than ice cream sales, so he and a longtime friend had pooled their resources to keep a roof over their heads.
As donations poured in, Foster was astounded.
"You just feel like you'll fall out in the floor," he said. "Never in my life had anything like that happened.
"I never thought it would happen."
BACK IN BUSINESS
Foster picked up his truck on Friday, filled it with frozen treats Saturday morning and made his first neighborhood run that afternoon.
He traveled first to the Kingswood community to show his gratitude to the parents and children who had helped him.
On Sunday, he and his housemate attended services at Christ Church to thank the congregation.
Packard said Foster's words were so meaningful they could have sufficed for that morning's message.
The minister also said the experience of serving as the collection point for the community's giving blessed the church's small staff.
"It's really overwhelming," Packard said. "I expected there would be generosity, but the people that are calling, the genuine concern in their voice it's very touching."
He said people gave everything from two $5 bills to hundreds of dollars, most with a desire to remain anonymous.
One man put the experience into perspective, Packard said. That man, who gave a check for $200, asked that the church convey a message to Foster.
"He said, 'Tell him: Don't give up hope,'" Packard said. "To me, that's the message of all of this. Don't give up hope."
Pamela Gould: 540/735-1972
Now that Richard Foster's crisis has passed, anyone wanting to help others can donate to Christ Church's food pantry, which serves about 100 families per month.
The pantry operates the second and fourth Tuesdays of the month from 10 a.m.