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Friday, December 27, 2013

“HEY, SANTA, AREN’T YOU MY GYM TEACHER?”

 Once again, this past Christmas Eve day, the Newburgh Rowing Club and NFA Crew Team members teamed up with Danielle Crinieri’s Families 4 Families to deliver presents to adopted families in the City of Newburgh.  I do a lot of rewarding things in my life, and this is definitely one of the most rewardinevents of the year, and something I look forward to all year.

     Danielle started this massive undertaking about a decade ago.  She started out   with a handful of families, with my Sister and Brother-in-law helping out with the purchasing and delivering.  This year, Families 4 Families provided toys, clothes, coats, home goods, gifts, food and a holiday dinner for over 137 families in the City of Newburgh.  Social workers identify deserving families, who make out a “wish list” and they are anonymously “adopted” by individuals, schools, businesses and groups.  For instance, Mrs. Lo adopted “Family no. 21” a family with three[u1]  kids.  I got everything on their very simple Wish List and then had fun getting them extra things I thought they could use and enjoy.  I made them homemade lasagna and homemade chicken parm, and my kids went to their savings account and used it to buy Target gift cards for the kids.
            Many, many individuals, businesses and families donate to make this happen, and it is all overseen by Danielle, who also goes out and shops for the multitude of families. Everything is “housed” at Bishop Dunn Memorial School, then comes the wrapping, which is largely done by BDMS students and families, and former students and families.
     This year, on delivery day, which is the morning of Christmas Eve, I dressed up as Mrs. Santa, and retired City of Newburgh police officer and Newburgh Rowing dad, Jim Cobey, dressed up as Santa Claus.  I think we had about 20 people from the Rowing Club, between rowers and parents, out helping this year. 
     Last year, Coach Kennedy dressed as Santa Claus and it was really a hit.  The only problem was, being a phys ed teacher and coach in Newburgh for 23 years, he knew students and former students everywhere we went.  He even ran into students who were now grandparents.  The conversations went like this:  “Ho, ho, ho, Merry Christmas from Families 4 Families.”  The kids would look at him and say things like, “Hey, Santa, aren’t you my gym teacher” or “Coach Kennedy, remember me, you were my football coach, here meet my grandson.”
     In the past when I helped with deliveries, I would just hand the sack of presents, say “Merry Christmas,” and be on my way.  Then I started the Student Ambassador Program and started driving around the City of Newburgh and going into kids’ houses and it all started to click. I decided to get out and meet and greet, speak to people in Spanish where called upon, and make it a little bit more of a presentation.
      Then Coach Kennedy got involved.  People recognized him or his truck and would run up to us in the streets and say, “Mr. Kennedy, I have nothing for the kids, can you help us.”  Coach told them sure, I will be back at Lander Street at noon, meet me there.  Last year, we went back and got the leftover presents and, as promised, we drove to the middle of Lander Street at noon.  A crowd was gathered.  The presents were labeled by gender and age.  We stood in the back of the pickup truck and were throwing presents to the kids.  Coach would identify a kid and their age and yell, “I need a boy present, age 8”, we would find something and we would throw it down, assembly line style until Santa Coach delivered the present.  People were openly weeping, saying they had nothing to give their kids and would not have had a Christmas had it not been for the “Santa truck.”  One woman told me in Spanish that her husband had just died the week before and had expected absolutely nothing.  Her kids were grown but we gave her all the “lady presents,” coat, perfume, scarf, we could find.  She was overcome with emotion and gratitude and kept thanking me in Spanish.
     Coach was unavailable this year, so Mr. Cobey stepped in.  One of the first houses we went to, one of our rowers banged on the door.  “No, no, that’s the Landlord Knock,” said another rower.  “Mommy, what’s a Landlord?” said Michael, my 9-year-old.  Christian, my 13 yo, has been going around with me doing my various City of Newburgh community projects for a good 3 years now.  This was Michael’s first time doing the Families 4 Families delivery run. 
     It’s very important to walk the walk and not just talk the talk.  When I say to my kids, “To whom much is given, much is expected,”  I really mean it.  It is now time for Michael to come out of his bubble and see a little more of real life.  He couldn’t understand the concept of an apartment, he thought the entire building was the family’s house.  When I explained that the apartment building had several families living in it, he said, “Like when I get married and have kids and we all come live with you and Daddy?”  Not exactly.  We’re still working on the concept, but we have time.
      The kids this year just LOVED that Santa came to their house with sacks full of presents and a turkey or ham.  To see these little kids jumping up and down and whispering in Santa’s ear was just priceless.  I would pick up babies and they would hang on to me play peek a boo with me.  I packed a big green sack full of bags of cookies so we would give them out to the kids, and it was a real hit.  “Ohhh, Mrs. Santa, just one more bag of cookies,” the kids would say.  I know all of our rowers were very much touched by the whole thing.
     Someone recently tried to thank me for helping out with Families 4 Families, and I had to set them straight.  This organization is 90% Danielle Crinieri and all the rest of us pick up the slack.  Really, this one woman pretty much does it all.  She has no title, no staff, no office, no Awards Ceremony; there is no TV crew following her around, although there should be.  She has touched so many lives for so many years.  I love that the Newburgh Rowing Club can help her out a little bit. 
     And, as with all my projects, it’s always my own kids, and our rowers, who end up being enriched in the end.  After opening presents at three different houses, I found Michael sitting in the midst of all the wrapping paper and toys, looking into the distance.  I asked what he was thinking about.  “I’m thinking about the kids at (ADDRESS IN NEWBURGH) today, how they all sleep in one room.  And I was thinking I have so many presents.  Maybe I could trade some of my presents in for bunk beds for them.”  What a great thought, I told him, maybe next year.
     As my grandmother always said, someone is praying for the things you take for granted.  Remember to Count Your Blessings, everyone, I can assure you that most of us are abundantly blessed.  Have a wonderful Saturday!  If you would like to adopt a family next year, or would like more info about Families 4 Families, which delivers Easter baskets in Newburgh and packs back to school Backpacks as well, please contact Danielle at Families 4 Families' facebook page:https://www.facebook.com/pages/Families-4-Families/260527340653989

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