For a few hours before Halloween, the Recreation Center at 6300 Meadowview Ave. became a funhouse of spooky decorations, pumpkin picking, and delighted kids. A long line snaked through the entire interior and out the front gate, waiting for gift bags filled with toys and candy, distributed by Mayor Nicholas Sacco.
But first came the parade, with hundreds of kids in costumes and their proud parents making their way in a loop around Lincoln School, led by the mayor, commissioners, and a marching band.
Afterward, kids enjoyed pony rides and made friends with the animals in the petting zoo outside on the field, or ran around holding duels with their new flashing light-stick sabers.
“The mayor loves this stuff. He’s really into it. He loves kids. He explains every toy.” –Police Chief Robert Dowd
Sugi Subawick couldn’t agree more. She and her family moved to North Bergen two and a half years ago from New York. “People and kids are coming together here,” she said. “The family concept, it touches me.”
A psychologist by trade, she is waiting for her license to transfer from New York to New Jersey so she can set up shop locally. In the interim she and her husband volunteer in the area and raise their own food in a garden on their property. She was attending the event for the second time with her son, Warren, age 2.
“I went all the way around the parade holding him,” she said. “With our busy lives we don’t get the opportunity to mingle with people. We don’t know even who’s living next door. You just say ‘hi’ and ‘bye.’ This is really nice. It’s an opportunity for the kids.”
First on line for candy
Catelena Pearl Urgiles, 6, was first on line for a gift bag, accompanied by her mom, Tammy. “I have older kids so I’ve gotten used to this,” laughed mom.
“I’ve got seven kids,” said Damaris Andres, attending with Kiara, 11, Joshua, 8, Brandon, 5, and little 8-month-old Sebastian in a hooded carriage, fascinated by his brand-new flashing light stick. Andres was an old hand at the event, having traipsed through with her older children many a time.
Asked what was the best part of the festivities, Kiara said, “The candy. And the animals.”
Elijah Otero, 9, was more decisive. “When I went on the horse” was his favorite part. A student at Lincoln School, he ditched his family to hang with the critters. “I told them I’d be next to the animals,” he said, cozying up to the friendly beasts. One particular animal stood out for him. “The camel,” he said, pointing to the llama. Close enough.
For Leah Williams, 7, another Franklin School student, the best part of the night was “The parade. Walking around.”
Growing every year
“This is one of the best programs we run,” said Police Chief Robert Dowd, watching Mayor Sacco hand out gift bags to smiling kids and pose for photos. “The mayor loves this stuff. He’s really into it. He loves kids. He explains every toy.”
“We’ve always had a party but it was only in the last four or five years that it got to this magnitude,” said Sacco once the line finally died down. “There was always something, ever since we took office. The Pop Warner building wasn’t here back then so it was done outside.”
A few years back on a chilly Halloween it was decided to bring the celebration indoors and decorate the interior of the building. “And everybody just loved it,” said Hugo Cabrera, commissioner of parks and public property. Staff from the recreation and parks department provide the decorating.
“Every year it keeps growing,” said Cabrera. “The animals started about four, five years ago. A couple of years we had a train out there too. Every year we change it.”
About 600 gift bags and 500 pumpkins were distributed to the festive crowd. Several hundred more gift bags were slated for distribution elsewhere, including the downtown library, where a Halloween magic show was held earlier that same evening. Others would go to the Trunk or Treat event on Oct. 31.
As the evening wound down, three high school sophomores sat on the bleachers chilling out. Leslie Reyes, 15, Karel Gonzalez, 16, and Bradley Lascano, 15, all live in Guttenberg. All are Key Club members and volunteered to help out at the event.
“We just made sure the kids didn’t climb on top of the ghost,” said Reyes about one of the blow-up displays inside the Rec Center. “There was this one ghost that kids kept jumping on it and they kept unplugging it.”
“They popped the spider,” said Gonzalez about another display. “There was this kid that kept jumping on top of the spider and made a hole.”
But now, with the crowds thinning and the parents leading their kids off to bed, the volunteers could finally relax and nibble on candy from the gift bags. “It’s our reward for helping out,” said Gonzalez.
“We’re not going to let them go to waste,” added Reyes.
Art Schwartz may be reached at email@example.com.