Santa got busy early this year, handing out hundreds of gifts to Guttenberg kids on Tuesday, Dec. 22. First he set up shop in front of Town Hall about 5 p.m. to raffle off six bicycles and countless toys. Then he climbed into his motorized sleigh and, escorted by the Police Department and town officials, set off through the streets, giving away assorted goodies and stopping by 10 homes to distribute bikes to select youngsters.
Andrea Porcaro was standing in front of her house with her three kids huddled in the open hatch of their SUV, staying dry in the light rain while awaiting Santa’s visit. “They love it,” she said of the annual parade, as Dominic, 3, and twins Ben and Alex, 4, sucked on candy canes and ogled the passing spectacle. “Ben got up when he heard the sirens and he goes, ‘Santa’s coming!’ He remembered. I can’t believe it.”
Other residents like Jared Taylor and his son Jack waited eagerly for a glimpse of the man in red. At 2 years old, Jack was attending the parade for the second time, and couldn’t wait to see Santa.
“The public response was joyous. That’s what this time of year is all about: seeing people smile, making kids happy.” –Officer Joe Fay
“I thought it was wonderful,” said Ellen Simon, watching with neighbors Jenna and Dave Rofelsohn and their young son, Evan. Also accompanying them was Simon’s Yorkshire Terrier, Susie, who seemed to enjoy the event as much as anyone. “Susie said, ‘bow wow,’” interpreted Simon.
Mariana Pelaez, dressed in holiday garb, stood by the sidelines, handing out sweets to kids and families. “My husband Steve is driving Santa Claus,” she said. “My son Sean is here, too. We love it.”
New tradition of gift-giving
This year the festivities began with a new treat: a raffle in front of Town Hall, where half a dozen bicycles and a host of toys were distributed to kids in the crowd.
“The amount of people in front of headquarters during the giveaway was more than I expected,” said Officer Joe Fay, the president of Guttenberg PBA local 88, sponsors of the bike and toy giveaway. “Everybody was smiling, having a good time. The public response was joyous. That’s what this time of year is all about: seeing people smile, making kids happy.”
The giveaway was first suggested by Lt. Charles Hughes about three weeks earlier. He had visited the Ridgefield Fire Department to ask about borrowing their reindeer-festooned Santa sled for this year’s parade, rather than cobble together something locally, as had been done in the past. On his way into town Hughes passed James Vincent Bicycles and a thought occurred to him.
“I said, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we could get a few bikes to give out to the kids?’” he recalled. “We were hoping to get a couple of bikes.”
The PBA immediately approved the idea and reached out to 10 or 12 businesses in town for donations to purchase bicycles. “Nobody said no,” said Hughes. “It kept getting bigger and bigger and we were able to get a few more things.”
Police Department members began donating toys, as did North Hudson Regional Fire and Rescue, the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office, and Guttenberg Code Enforcement Office Nick Ravelli. More than 100 toys were collected and then distributed on Dec. 22.
In addition to the six bikes raffled off that night, gifts were given out to the assembled crowd. “No kids went away empty handed,” said Fay.
“There were a lot of happy faces,” said Hughes. “And I think it’s going to get better. This was the first year we did it. If we start earlier and reach out to more businesses we can definitely make it better.”
Bikes, food, toys to the needy
“During the Santa Parade, some of the bikes were given away to residents that we felt were the most needy in Guttenberg,” said Fay. “Santa would stop by that family’s address and give them a bike.”
Assistant Administrator Marisol Montanez was responsible for coordinating the giveaways to needy residents. “I called the school and they gave me 10 names,” she explained. “Then I called the parents and asked about siblings and took care of them too.”
The brothers and sisters received various other gifts, while families were provided with holiday meals of ham, turkey, chicken, or food vouchers.
“I just wanted to make sure everyone got a little something,” said Montanez. “I had Barbies, footballs, dolls, stuffed animals, backpacks, pencils, notebooks, t-shirts, Santa hats, candy canes. Also scooters, skateboards, so many different toys.”
“It was an awesome experience,” she concluded. “The look on everybody’s face was priceless.”
Art Schwartz may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.