Chicago Sun-Times
Alexandra Zaslow
December 30, 2014 05:35 PM

While Santa was busy leaving gifts for kids under the tree, President Barack Obama stepped in to give one young teen his own special present.

Malik Bryant, 13, who lives in the Englewood section of Chicago, a high-crime neighborhood in the south side of the city, participated in a Letters to Santa program through DirectEffect Charities, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

Most of the 8,500 Chicago public school students involved in the program asked for things like school supplies or winter coats.

Not Bryant.

“All I ask for is for safety. I just wanna be safe,” Bryant wrote in the letter.

When Michelle DiGiacomo, CEO of DirectEffect – a non-profit that aids Chicago-area children in need – came across this letter, she “couldn’t stop reading it.”

“Someone bigger than Santa needed to see this letter,” DiGiacomo told the newspaper. “I thought the President of the United States needed to see it.”

DiGiacomo sent the letter to U.S. Rep. Michael Quigley, who helped get the letter into the president’s hands. Quigley said the letter “puts the holidays in perspective,” according to NBC.

While waiting to hear back, Bryant’s mom suggested that the program should get him things to entertain himself inside – since walking outside in their neighborhood has many potential dangers.

“Sometimes he wants to go over to my sister’s house nearby, to hang out with his cousins,” Bryant’s mom told the Sun-Times. “But he can’t because he has to cross gang lines and walk past all these gang members on some of those blocks. And all he ever hears on the news about our neighborhood is shootings, gangs and violence. Malik knows he’s not safe.”

Through the program, he received a Wii game and a new computer on Christmas Day – and it didn’t stop there.

On Saturday, Bryant received a letter from the White House, signed by President Barack Obama.

“I want to offer you a few words of encouragement,” the president wrote. “Each day, I strive to ensure communities like yours are safe places to dream, discover and grow. Please know your security is a priority for me in everything I do as president.”

“If you dare to be bold and creative, work hard every day, and care for others, I’m confident you can achieve anything you imagine,” he added. “And I will be rooting for you.”

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