Choo-chooing toward Christmas
Hundreds turn out for Santa Claus arrival

Posted by the Asbury Park Press on 12/10/06

Children bundled from head to toe in coats, hats, scarves and gloves waited their turn in chilly sunshine Saturday to meet North Pole native Kriss Kringle.  As Christmas carols filled the air, anxious children stood patiently, exchanging wish lists and snacking on candy. Then Santa appeared at the Freehold bus/train station on a CSX Conrail train that mesmerized the kids with its size and beauty.

The blue, yellow and gray train, adorned with a wreath, garland and ornaments, "arrived" around noon on the corner of Throckmorton and West Main streets, the first leg of Santa's trip. And Santa and his volunteers made sure every child left with a smile.

And while some children remained tight-lipped about their hopes for Christmas morning, others were more vocal.  "I want two Bratz dolls," said 10-year-old Francesca Acosta of Freehold.

Brother Carlos, who was celebrating his 14th birthday, had something else in mind. "I want a puppy."

After the children had a chance to sit on Santa's lap, he departed on the CSX to the Jamesburg Fire House, where throngs of children were waiting at the center of town for their turn to meet Jolly Old Saint Nick.

Officer Chris Colaner of the Freehold Police Department, who organized this year's event, said the idea of local police as the "bearers of bad news" seems to have changed as more and more volunteers from the police department are seen helping out with the festivities.

Vinny Loksa, 13, of Manalapan, gave up his Saturday to help his dad, a Freehold police officer, give out toys. "I just wanted to help the kids,"
Vinny said.

"I am going to see (Santa) later," added 7-year-old Giovanni DeMuth, a veteran of the Santa Train who has been coming with his father, also a police officer, for the last three years.

Joseph Garofolo, superintendent of operations for Conrail, said, "(This is) a partnership (between Conrail and Freehold) to show support of the community, to give back any way we can."

All of the goodies received by the children during their visit were courtesy of donations and funds raised by the Freehold Borough Police Department.

Upon Santa's knee, each child received an individual portrait and paper frame. When they were finishing speaking with Santa, volunteers distributed bags of candy and toys such as Play-Doh, dolls, cars and toy airplanes.  Despite the unexpectedly large turnout, Colaner said: "No one gets sent away. We'll go get more toys, more film, anything. That's our guarantee."

Sometimes volunteering at the event is "more heartbreaking than rewarding, said Sgt. Andrew DeMuth.  "Some families who come to see Santa don't have much, so the presents we give out here are their presents," he said.

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