Long Beach philanthropist Hood Santa among four ‘unsung heroes’ honored

Long Beach native Tito Rodriguez, endearingly known as “Hood Santa” for giving back to the underserved communities where he grew up, was recognized as an unsung hero by Molina Healthcare on Wednesday.

Known as the Community Champions Awards, each year the health insurance company honors philanthropists and nonprofits with trophies and $3,000 grants to continue their missions.

Tito Rodriguez receives his award with the support of his partner H.J. Chong during the Molina Healthcare Community Champions Awards luncheon. Photo by Thomas R. Cordova.

“It felt incredible,” Rodriguez said about his recognition, though he clarified that his goal was never to get awards. “I love to help people. I love to help children and families in underserved areas. That’s what this was all about at all times.”

While he now lives in Downey, Rodriguez was raised in Central Long Beach, near 15th Street and Walnut Avenue. Rodriguez said he knows what it’s like to have nothing, which is why his goal is to help as many people in need that he can.

Rodriguez and his partner H.J. Chong at their nonprofit Local Hearts Foundation have been helping the community for nine years now. It started with the Diamond Christmas Toy Giveaway, a partnership with Nick Diamond, owner of the skateboard and streetwear company Diamond Supply.

IN PICTURES: Hood Santa and Diamond Supply give away 1,500 toys to children

A few years later, the nonprofit added an annual Thanksgiving turkey giveaway and backpack giveaway to help underserved families start the school year well prepared.

Now, as Rodriguez continues to be in the spotlight—Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia recognized him in August and the community honored him with a mural at 1055 Redondo Ave. earlier this year—Rodriguez hopes to use those connections to build partnerships and hopefully provide more help through funding or supplies.

Tito Rodriguez is backlit from the 15 floor looking Long Beach as he receives his award from the Molina Healthcare Community Champions Awards luncheon. Photo by Thomas R. Cordova.

For example, for their scheduled turkey giveaway on Nov. 23, they will be providing 3,000 tacos for the first time ever thanks to a partnership with Bomb Azz Tacos food truck.

“It’s incredible the stuff we’re getting to do for these families, for these people that need it,” Rodriguez said.

Molina Healthcare also awarded on Wednesday Erik Pfahler of HomeAid Los Angeles, Raymond Curry of Meals on Wheels of Long Beach and Carlos Benavides of Rancho Los Amigos. 

Tito Rodriguez talks about his nonprofit as he receives his award from the Molina Healthcare Community Champions Awards luncheon. Photo by Thomas R. Cordova.

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Stephanie Rivera is the immigration and diversity reporter for the Long Beach Post. After graduating from CSULB with a degree in journalism, Stephanie worked for Patch Latino and City News Service before coming to the Long Beach Post in 2015.