NEWTON, NJ - In spite of blustery temperatures today, and the small dusting of snow this morning, the mood in the Town of Newton was warm, celebratory, and full of holiday spirit throughout the town, and day.
When residents heard multiple fire sirens, and saw engines making many stops at homes during the late afternoon and through the early evening, instead of seeing a fire crew come charging off of their engines with their fire gear on, the fire department stopped at homes, delivering Santa Claus with his elves, as well as gifts for select children throughout the municipality.
There were at least 35 members of the Newton Fire Department on call today, volunteering for the seventh annual Operation Santa.
"It [Operation Santa] gets bigger and bigger every year," said Newton Fire Department's Chief, Mike Teets.
The Alternative Press tagged along with the fire department this afternoon along part of their gift delivery route, as Teets drove the chief's truck, and Engine 802 (normally at Woodside Avenue, Fire Station Number Two) made stops to homes and other locations, where Santa, elves, and other members of the department, delivered gifts to select children, and candy to other children whose curiosity was piqued by Old Saint Nick making a stop in their neighborhood.
There was a second team led by Engine 805, normally stationed at Fire Station Number One (Mill Street), which led the way and was ready to divert at any given moment, in case there was a fire call. Engine 803, also usually at Fire Station Number One, was the one in the second group, carrying Santa, elves, and gifts.
Last year, Teets said a fire alarm went off at a home in town during Operation Santa, and, "we took Santa for a ride."
The fire department, for a donation of $10 per the first child in a family, and $5 per each afterward, would deliver gifts dropped off previously to the Woodside Avenue Firehouse by parents, to their surprised children. Children were smiling and excited as they met Santa (who Teets said the two were played this year by two lieutenants, who prefer not to be named, and only referred to as "Santa").
Some of the children willingly hugged Santa as he approached them with their gifts and a "ho, ho, ho," and others stood back slightly more shyly on his arrival, while their eyes lit up as they were handed their packages.
"We were waiting for you, Santa," one parent said, addressing him as he came up the stairs to hand their child a gift.
The parent said they saw the other engine driving by their house on its respective route.
"That was just the warm up," Santa chuckled as he handed off the package.
Firefighter Jason Miller is the chairman of Operation Santa, and, said he was the original Santa Claus in the first year, along with firefighter Jean Card, who played an elf. Both Miller and Card were volunteers who drove Santa around town today.
"This is the biggest year yet," said Miller. "We're well over 250 children."
Miller said the 250 children encompassed about 100 stops the department's two teams had on the agenda for the day. Teets said the group would return to the firehouse midway through the Operation Santa, to refill the vehicles with gifts.
In previous years, Teets said Operation Santa would commence at 4:00 p.m., and, this year, they started making deliveries this time earlier, beginning at 2:30 p.m.
As the firefighters made their rounds through town, at 5 p.m., a small group gathered in The Springboard Shoppes on Spring Street, to hear young carolers from the Stillwater Elementary School, led by Kay Hatch, sing songs like, "Frosty The Snowman," "Jolly Old St. Nicholas," "Up On The Housetop," and more. Prior to the caroling, audience members were passed battery operated candles, to hold as they sang. The students held them too, as well as chimed special bells during their numbers. Following their performance, refreshments of cookies and hot cocoa were served.
The festivities at The Springboard Shoppes was the culmination of the Spring Street celebration "Windows Wonderland," where participating merchants decorated their windows, and the one that received the most votes received the recognition.
"We're pleased to announce the winning window in town is Diva Designs," Susan Longcore of Feels Like Home, another Spring Street merchant, told the crowd.
Julie Simms, Diva Designs' owner, was at the event when the announcement was made. The Alternative Press joined Simms, and her husband Bob, back at the store for photos. Simms credited Toni Sabol, for her window design, which instead of the traditional red and green, was in lavender and white.
"She [Sabol] decorates my windows every few months," Simms said.
Sabol artfully assorted outfits in the coordinating color theme for both ladies and men, along with a fireplace, and Christmas Tree.
Nearly 1,500 votes were cast in the contest for the "Windows Wonderland," event. Each vote was entered in for a grand prize gift basket drawing, overflowing with gift certificates and other items, from merchants involved with the New Spring Street Merchants Group, and others.
Bill Longcor, one of the owners of Feels Like Home, said the basket was advertised at a $250 value, but actually valued at about $500. There were gifts and certificates from many local businesses including: Tri-State Actors Theater, Diva Designs, The Seven Acre Baker, Feels Like Home, The New Jersey Herald, TraillWorks, The Perfect 10, The Scissor Joint, PB&J Stores, Charm, Maxwell & Molly's Closet, Trinity Restaurant & Lounge, The Springboard Shoppes, Robin Lennon Inner Designs, Yarn Boutique By Sarah, Robin Lennon Inner Designs, CJ's Barbershop, and more.
Lainie Oleske of Hamburg, N.J., was the winner of the basket.
Stacy Longcor, also of Feels Like Home, said, "It was a nice participation for one of our [The New Spring Street Merchants Group] events."
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