AVOCA — There were holiday sweaters, Christmas dresses, antlers and necklaces from Christmas lights and even one red bow tie. There were police officers. There were snacks.
And, best of all, there was Santa Claus.
They all came together Saturday in the St. Mary’s Hall in Avoca just to have some holiday fun.
“We got a lot of calls and we’re expecting quite a crowd,” said Jennifer Baker, one of the organizers just before the party’s 2 p.m. start. “I hope people didn’t change their minds because it’s such a warm day.”
She didn’t have to worry, even though it was a Saturday before Christmas and people had much to do with holiday preparations. More than 100 youngsters, from babies to age 11 or so – with at least one parent or grandparent in tow – streamed through the door at the former school, each kid collecting a ticket for the grand door prize. One lucky boy and one lucky girl would go home with a bicycle after the drawing at the end of the festivities.
People got settled in at tables, greeted old friends and neighbors, talked to some of the police officers who stopped in. Some of those cops were not even on duty but were on a day off work, but they came to let the kids know about their work to keep the community safe.
Finally, Santa made his entrance and spent time talking to kids and working his way through the crowd, greeting all comers, before he got to the stage. And before anyone could put in requests for something under the tree on Christmas morning, he recited “Twas the Night Before Christmas,” and led the crowd in singing a few of their favorite Christmas ditties, like “Frosty the Snowman,” and “Here Comes Santa Claus.”
Then he finally sat in the big, velvet-covered chair to let kids climb into his lap and let him know what presents they wanted.
Emma Romasko, age 8, from Avoca, wanted a fish. Five-year-old Tino Salvo, from Duyrea, planned to ask for a T-Rex from Jurassic Park, not a real one for the back yard. And Christian Santos, 6, who lives in Kingston and was at the party with his Avoca-based grandmother, Carol Trazcinski, said he just “wanted a lot of stuff.”
Nine-year-old Calder Lehman, of Dupont was planning to ask for a go-kart. But he also hoped his name would be drawn for one of the prize bikes.
Each kid who climbed onto Santa’s lap whispered requests into the bearded guy’s ear and left with a small toy. And it was the highlight of the day for the moms and dads who crowded into take that classic photo of the child with Santa.
It was the first-ever party sponsored by the combined crime watch groups of Avoca and Dupont, and from the noise level in the room, organizers said they are fairly sure this won’t be the last.
“This shows what can happen when folks decide to do something for the community,” said Bob Price, of the Dupont Crime Watch, who prowled through the room taking pictures of families having fun.
Avoca patrolman Ken Salvo, who serves as a liaison between the police and the town’s crime watch group said a party like this has gone on in his hometown of Duryea, and he suggested that it could happen in the town where he serves.
“The Crime Watch volunteers loved the idea and ran with it,” he said.
Dupont Crime Watch president, Pina Hansen, said there were a handful of meetings with the two groups that resulted in flyers going to residents, posters, hiring the hall and getting snacks together. Volunteers also sought and got donations for raffle prizes. They were the traditional gift baskets, as well as a giant teddy bear and a 32-inch LED television, and the money for those tickets will go toward future kids’ parties and other community events in the towns.
“You know, we wanted to do something for the people we live with because it’s our community,” Hansen said. “It’s a simple thing, but it does something to make our community better somehow. We’re just glad to do it.”