There was barely a square inch of open space left on Robert Destefano’s front lawn back in December, between the countless Santa Clauses, the “Grinch” inflatable, penguins, seals, a creche, “Alvin and the Chipmunks” figurines and a reindeer hanging out candy canes — a display that drew hundreds of Long Islanders to his Franklin Square home, some of whom left donations for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Now, he is donating more than $3,640 to the organization.
“It would’ve never happened if it weren’t for your guys,” he posted on Facebook on Jan. 22. “God bless you all.”
Destefano has been setting up the annual Christmas display since 2015, fulfilling a dream he has had since he was a child growing up in the area, where a house across from Valley Stream North High School was always well-decorated and featured Santa Claus greeting passersby on Christmas Eve every year.
But Destefano, 42, struggled with obesity, and weighed 528 pounds in his 30s, making it difficult to put up such a display. He eventually got gastric bypass and tummy tuck surgery, and lost 300 pounds in one year.
Then, when he saw that his friend, Kevin Lynch, of Whitestone, Queens, win the “Great Christmas Light Fight” on ABC and $500,000 in 2013, Destefano figured it was time to start his own display.
By 2016, Destefano started putting out a donation box for St. Jude at his mother’s behest. She told him that since he was doing such a large Christmas display, he should also raise money for children with cancer, he told the Herald in December, “and I loved it.”
He has since collected between $2,000 to $6,000 for the organization each year.