The holiday season is a time for giving, but George Annino of Oak Park doesn’t wait for the Christmas lights to go up to show his altruistic side.
For the past 30 years, Annino has directed various community efforts in the collection of food, blankets, clothes and anything else he can give to individuals and families in need. He’s founded charitable organizations, worked on behalf of his church—or just taken it upon himself to help.
“I’m a fifth-generation giver. It’s just something my family has always done,” said Annino, 76, who ran the Santa Comes to Agoura Santa and Beyond food drive for over 30 years before handing the reins of the operation to the Westlake Junior Women’s Club about five years ago.
A Sicilian by way of New York, Annino currently works with a group he jokingly calls Tre Pisani, which is Italian for “three friends.” He jokes because there’s nothing official about it—Annino; Steve Bonifede, 60; and Ralph Boulware, 74, aren’t working as a nonprofit or a charity group. Today they operate informally and just do what they can to help other people in need.
This year, they’re focused on helping three families in the area who have fallen on hard times. The men are collecting gift cards for food, gas and clothing. They even bought a refrigerator from Craigslist for one of the families that didn’t have one.
“We don’t have to go through red tape to get funds released. We’ve been through some formal programs where we’ve had needy families and a committee agreed there was a need but the organization in control wouldn’t release any money; we don’t know why,” Oak Park resident Bonifede said.
“We’re not checking people’s backgrounds, it’s all on faith (that they need help). We’re not talking hundreds of people. It’s all local, people who’ve heard their neighbor’s been out of a job for six months. ‘Boom, here’s a gift card to buy gas. Hope it helps while you’re looking for work.’”
The three men are members of St. Maximilian Kolbe Catholic Church in Westlake, which is where they met. Agoura Hills resident Boulware met Bonifede and Annino, who were already friends, when he joined the Good Samaritans, a church committee.
“We met and realized there were people the church was taking care of but there were still some falling through the cracks, so the idea was to help those that we could,” Boulware said. “Everyone bears their own expenses. You drive your own car, pay for the gas. There’s zero overhead. Anything we get, we give to where it’s supposed to go.”
While they’re out to help, they make it a rule to not hand out money. If someone needs assistance they’re more than willing to see the person asking gets what they need. Annino said they’ll accept checks from people who want to donate to the cause, but they don’t hand that money to the people they’re helping. They’ll use it to buy supplies or gift cards that can be put toward a specific purpose.
There have been times families have come to rely too heavily on regular assistance, and have to be cut off. Bonifede said they aren’t there to adopt anyone. They also have to be wary of people asking for help they don’t need.
“We’re not stupid. If someone thinks they’re going to BS us they’re dealing with the wrong guys. I’m going to tell it just like it is,” Annino said. “When you pull into that driveway and you see a brand new car or something like that, it ain’t gonna happen.”
Bonifede said people who want to donate to the Tre Pisani are comfortable doing so because of Annino’s 30-year reputation of philanthropy.
Annino recently received 300 turkeys from Costco in Westlake Village, which he donated to the Rancho San Antonio Boys Home in Chatsworth.
They prefer to help a few families, but if they’re approached about someone in need, they’ll take up the cause.
“George knows a lot of people, so people know to call him if there’s a family in need, he has the reputation of (helping), knowing that even $50 is going to help,” Bonifede said. “Even anonymously, if someone says ‘Hey George, it’s my neighbor, I feel awkward giving them $100, can you facilitate it?’ And he can do it.”
Annino has worked with a number of charitable organizations in the past, including Children of the Night, Fred Jordan Mission for the Homeless, Casa Madona LA, Battered Women and Children of LA, and Saint Jude’s Hospital, to name a few.
Annino said contributions are accepted. Checks made out to him can be mailed to 6602 Maplegrove St., Oak Park CA 91377.