SOMERS POINT — Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. And on Tuesday night, he ditched his sleigh and was traveling instead on a Somers Point fire truck.
Santa’s sack was bulging with big, furry stuffed animals and gifts large and small wrapped in red and green. His elves came as well, their arms loaded with presents and boxes of food.
The sirens blared as two fire trucks, along with emergency vehicles and police cars, crisscrossed the city Tuesday to deliver presents and all of the makings of Christmas to three families.
Somers Point Community Police Officer Lt. Anthony DiSciascio helped organize the effort along with many other people at City Hall, the police and fire departments, and the Community FoodBank of New Jersey Southern Branch in Egg Harbor Township.
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Reese Stanley, 7, got a personal visit from Santa in the living room of his Crestview Drive home. He sat on Claus' lap while Santa talked to him about Christmas, about listening to his mom and trying his best in school — something Reese apparently is already doing, as he just brought home a perfect report card from St. Joseph Regional School, where he is in the second grade, according to his mother, Ashley Clayton.
Tears welled in Clayton's eyes as she said she was overwhelmed with the kindness shown to her and Reese by the officers, firefighters and Santa Claus.
Firefighters and secretaries from the Police Department carried in boxes of food for a healthy Christmas dinner and placed them on the kitchen table.
DiSciascio said the food was provided by the food bank. He also gave Clayton contact information for Mary Jane Bolden, who heads the Somers Point Fire Auxiliary and is always quick to respond when there is a need in the city.
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Dec. 16 marked one year since Clayton and her son lost everything in a fire at the Sea-Aire Apartment complex. Even the boy’s medical supplies were lost in the blaze, and they had to start all over again.
“I don’t know what we would have done without this,” Clayton said. “I really can’t tell you how much I appreciate this. I don’t think I would have been able to have tree or presents for my son. I am just overwhelmed.”
Reese followed Santa down the steps and out in front of his house, clutching the stuffed cat Santa had given him moments before. Reese gave high-fives all around, and then he and his mother stood waving until all of the vehicles pulled away and the caravan took off for its next stop.
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The final stop of the night was at the Lehigh Drive home of James and Rose Katten and their six children, ages 5 to 16. Here, it was all hands on deck to carry in the tree, wrapped gifts and boxes of food.
DiSciascio said he met with the family earlier and the children had a wish list, and with the help of Police Officer John Barbieri and the secretaries in the department, they tried to stretch every dollar to help Santa make that wish list a reality for the family.
All of the kids were excited to have Santa sitting in their living room and took turns on his lap. Catalina Garden, 5, giggled with delight over seeing Santa, the big stuffed dog he gave her, and the presents now piled under their Christmas tree.
Kate Simmerman and firefighters carried in boxes of food that included a turkey, ham, fresh vegetables, juice, potatoes, stuffing and more.
“We cannot say thank you enough times tonight for all of this,” Rose Katten said. “Without this help we could not have done this for the kids for Christmas. If we reached out to a family member they might have been able to help with something small for each of the kids. But this is amazing; I am feeling truly blessed.”
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James Katten is an emergency medical technician in Absecon, and Rose works in a doctor’s office in Somers Point, but health issues sidelined her on and off for the past few months.
“We were making ends meet — just making ends meet — but we were doing OK with both of us working. But when it takes both incomes to get by and then one of them is gone for four months, everything begins to push in on you,” James Katten said. “This is all pretty amazing and really appreciated.”
DiSciascio said money from the No Shave November fundraising campaign held in by Somers Point police and Fire Department Station 2, along with the William Morrow Foundation, helped provide the presents.
“The foundation came to us to help, and they really stepped up in a big way,” he said.
As the community police officer, DiSciascio is in and out of the city schools all the time and knows the kids through the schools. Each of the families was interviewed to find out what the children wanted and to assess if the need was there for the departments to intercede and help them this holiday season.
“Each of the families we visited and left presents and food really needed help, and we are glad we could make this Christmas something special for our Somers Point families,” DiSciascio said. “It warms our hearts to be able to help as well.”
This is the third year the Somers Point Police Department has teamed up with the Fire Department, the food bank and Santa Claus to deliver Christmas and spread goodwill close to home.