By Joan Hadac
Editor & Publisher
Southwest Chicago Post
The temperature was below zero Sunday night, but the
|Santa Claus at dusk, at the start of his run.
As he did last year, Santa Claus rode atop a vintage fire truck up and down streets--Central to Harlem, 51st to 59th—bringing holiday cheer to thousands of people, many of whom spilled out of their homes to greet the Man in Red.
“I can’t believe I just took my kids out after dark, and it’s what—five below zero—just so they could stand on the sidewalk and wave at Santa,” said Garfield Ridge resident Donna Scalise. “But I know they’re going to be talking about this at school tomorrow and calling their cousins in Oak Lawn to let them know what they saw.”
Santa’s cruise was once again the brainchild of the Garfield
Ridge Neighborhood Watch, one of the Chicago area’s most active and effective civilian-led crime fighting organizations.
“This whole night was long because of the cold weather, but it was awesome,” said GRNW President Al Cacciottolo, who rode on the truck along with Frosty the Snowman and several “elves” who also are key members of the GRNW.
“It was nice enough to see little kids, boys and girls, waving from their front windows with their moms and dads,” he added. “But then to see so many people come outside in this weather, with the little kids jumping up and down, just to thank us and give us cookies, candy and cocoa—I mean really, we were just blown away with the kindness of some people.”
A few tykes even brought sealed envelopes to the fire truck—last-minute gift requests to be considered by the Jolly Old Elf.
To keep ensure that parents and children did not miss the visit. GRNW board member Janja Taylor posted a detailed route map on the GRNW Facebook page, as well as "from the truck" updates on exactly where Santa was at various times.
Cacciottolo said the crew on the truck was “just happy to help bring a little cheer to the community. If we came down your block and made you smile—maybe you were having a bad day, but now you’re not—then it was all worth it for us.”
By popular demand, Santa Claus and crew rode up and down the streets of central and west Clearing (west of Central Avenue) the following night; and they are scheduled to roll Tuesday night in parts of West Elsdon and other neighborhoods east of Midway Airport. (Details coming Tuesday morning.)
While some might wonder what a visit from Santa Claus has to do with preventing crime, Cacciottolo said he sees a connection that is clear, if indirect.
“It’s all about building stronger neighborhoods,” he said. “This ‘Santa on a fire truck’ thing we do is a lot of fun, and it kind of underscores what a special place Garfield Ridge is for children and their parents—just as it always has been. Really, what other neighborhood or suburb can you think of that does this?
“But here’s the larger thing,” Cacciottolo concluded. “It gets people out of their houses at the same time, in the spirit of fun. So you may have neighbors meeting each other for the first time—then they make connections and build friendships that make their block a stronger and better place. And it’s kind of an affirmation of the neighborhood, making people—newcomers and old-timers alike—feel good about being here. It’s a kind of “I like Garfield Ridge. I belong here.”
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