STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. – The holiday spirit filled the auditorium of PS 31, New Brighton, yesterday, as grade-school children waited for a turn on stage with Santa and the chance to pick out a gift – for some, it would be their only Christmas present.
It was in a truck full of coats provided to those who otherwise would be cold this winter, and in Santa’s visits to children in borough hospitals. The meaning of charity and community was in the parties for struggling families, sponsored by local businesses, and the season’s beauty and depth was found last night in the flickering light of the menorah at Borough Hall, and the Hanukkah melodies sung by children.
“Children need a smile; things are tough today, tough for parents. There’s not that much money around, children need to see more about happiness than all of this violence than they see,” said John M. DarConte, past commander of the Cespino-Russo Post, American Legion, in South Beach, which collected hundreds of toys throughout the year. This post visited the school last year and resolved to return based on the youngsters’ tearful gratitude.
“Today I had a little boy who came up to me and said, ‘This is the first time I’ve seen Santa Claus,'” said DarConte. “We had a little girl who was so taken that she got the Barbie Doll she wanted and she just hugged it like she wouldn’t let it go.”
Six students from the color guard at PS 29, Castleton Corners, helped distribute the gifts. Some of the gifts collected by PS 29 students over the past several months also went to youngsters in the pediatric unit of Staten Island University Hospital, Ocean Breeze.
HIGH SCHOOL ATHLETES BRING CHEER, PRESENTS
More than 50 student athletes from the St. Joseph by-the-Sea boys and girls basketball teams, who also collected gifts for youngsters in need, delivered the bounty, along with some good cheer.
“The students are forever looking at different ways to expand on their generosity and giving back to the community,” said Scotty Welle, head coach of Sea’s boys basketball team who also serves as parent coordinator at PS 29. He was joined by PS 29 Principal Linda Manfredi.
Santa also arrived to brighten the days for children at the hospital’s pediatric unit, along with a team from Kids Against Cancer. Elves from the MTA loaded up a bus with toys.
City Councilman Vincent Ignizio (R-South Shore) arrived at the hospital with the folks from Lowe’s Home Improvement, filling out the youngsters’ day of gifts, visits and lightheartedness – a welcome break for kids who often, sadly, must muster courage beyond their years.
At the Drunken Monkey Bar & Grill, West Brighton, a “Christmas Toy Give Away” put smiles on the faces of 35 children from Concord and Clifton. The night, which included food and drink for the families, was sponsored by the restaurant and organized by the community-based Empowerment Zone Inc.
Warmth against winter’s chill was on the minds of the Korean Dry Cleaners Association, who demonstrated another meaning of warmth by delivering many dozens of coats to Borough Hall for distribution to the needy through Project Hospitality.
Later in the evening at Borough Hall, a Hanukkah ceremony capped the day. More than a hundred members of the borough’s Jewish community packed the room for a traditional lighting of the menorah on the second night of Hanukkah. As neatly dressed 4- and 5-year-olds from the Staten Island Hebrew Academy, Graniteville, sang traditional songs, Rabbi Shlomo Uzansky of the academy discussed the holiday, and the miracles described in the Torah that sustained the Jewish community.
From morning to last night’s evening glow of Hanukkah candles, here on Staten Island, there were so many little miracles of generosity, selflessness and true kinship that made the borough that much sweeter a place to be.