George Wieder, of Tucker, gathers Halloween items to make a gift basket for a charity's silent auction. He is a senior who spends all day every day serving metro Atlantans in many volunteer capacities.(Photo by Phil Skinner)
Photo: Phil Skinner
Photo: Phil Skinner

Retired military officer still answers the call for service

George Wieder could be Atlanta’s best-known volunteer, but only to the many charitable organizations with which he crosses paths. To everyone else, his contributions might go unnoticed.

Friend and fellow volunteer Christiane O’Hare Seifring said the nonprofits know him because he’s so generous.

“There must be 25 to 30 organizations that he’s associated with, donates time to and spends time with,” she said. “He goes across organizations. He just answers the call.”

The 75-year-old retired Air Force lieutenant colonel is always looking for ways to be helpful and give generously. He reads to elementary school students every week with the Atlanta Kiwanis Club and delivers sandwiches and cookies to the USO every Wednesday, though it’s a 100-mile round trip from his house.

Throughout December, the Tucker resident flies under the radar in his Santa suit, his smile shining past a well-coiffed beard as he brings holiday magic to kids who can’t make it to the mall. His Santa visits are free, of course, and will likely come with presents that Wieder has purchased himself.

“He’s the perfect Santa because he’s happy all the time. He was born with the happy gene,” said Judy Wieder, his wife of 53 years and a retired DeKalb County school teacher and media specialist.

Perhaps the greatest way he contributes is by creating elaborate theme baskets for silent auctions, a favorite fundraiser that helps many of these nonprofits stay afloat.

Last year, he put together 109 gift baskets with items he purchased himself. Most of his baskets are worth $200 to $250 retail, but Wieder never pays retail. He shops throughout the year, often clearing out store shelves during deeply discounted sales. If it’s 90% off, he’ll buy up everything he knows he can turn over as a gift. In his head, each item has a home before he opens his wallet.

Judy says her husband has a natural talent for making up the baskets, and, on his shopping trips, he can remember all the organizations and what they need.

“He’s very artistic in creating these baskets,” she said. “His mind never stops going.”

The catalyst to all of Wieder’s volunteerism is the Atlanta Kiwanis Club, where he has been an active member for the past 14 years. Kiwanis are involved in helping youth, and each week the club meets and hears speakers from other organizations that benefit children.

George Wieder talks about the thriller of find bargains that he collects for charities in the basement of his Tucker home. Photo by Phil Skinner for the AJC
Photo: For the AJC

Wieder said he’s always impressed by those who run these nonprofits, and there are so many needs he rarely ever turns down an invitation to help. Sometimes he’ll make 10 baskets for one auction, and he always delivers them himself.

“I started helping a few organizations with baskets and gradually your name gets around and you do more and more,” he said.

Camp Kiwanis, a nonprofit camp owned by the Boys and Girls Club of Metro Atlanta, can always count on Wieder for his Santa visits, and also for his support throughout the year, said director Carly Robinson.

“George truly embodies Santa in every way. He not only gives his time and attention, he tracks down supplies and gifts for the kids and our teen staff. We really appreciate his exuberance in all that we do,” she said.

Wieder’s likely to find whatever the campers need in his own basement, which is trove of treasures he’s collected over the years. Shelves and plastic bins spill over with themed items on Christmas, Halloween, pop culture and sports teams, just to name a few. He has spools of ribbon and baskets of all sizes.

He even lets nonprofits “shop” there, taking whatever they need for table decorations and gifts for galas or other special events at no cost.

Wieder said he grew up in a generous family. His mother, a nurse, would sometimes bring people home who had no place to go. Judy Wieder said her husband is not only carrying on that legacy but also has passed it on to their two children.

Said Seifring: “George is needs-centric. He asks: ‘Who needs my help and how can I best serve them’.”

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