CRANFORD - Santa Claus returned to Cranford again this year by way of the Cranford Jaycees’ Santa Deliveries and Toy Drive.

Over the course of two nights, Santa made stops at 620 homes to deliver a total of 1,514 presents, escorted by flashing lights of Cranford Police or Fire Department vehicles and a team of elves.

The visits were part of a toy collection drive where parents donate a present for families in need throughout the region. The parents can then have a wrapped present delivered by Santa to their home on a weekend night. The drive netted more than 1,700 donations.

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The tradition started in the early 2000s by the Cranford Police Department and has grown in recent years under the leadership of the Cranford Jaycees. With the number of gifts swelling from 611 in 2014 to almost 1,400 last year, the event outgrew its previous home at the Cranford Fire Department. The Jaycees credit Mayor Patrick Giblin and Steve Robertazzi from the Cranford Recreation and Parks Department for facilitating the use of the former MHS Tennis Academy as the staging location.

“The volunteer manpower can't be overstated: literally 50+ people putting in hundreds of hours,” said Cameron Andre, Internal Vice President for the Jaycees and co-chair of the event with Jaycees President Mike Bond. “It’s an unbelievable show of community support that staggers me every year.”

Mr. Andre noted that in the event’s early years, a few devoted police officers worked tirelessly over the course of several nights to deliver gifts to Cranford homes. “Now that it’s gotten so big,” Mr. Andre continued, “We’ve had to assemble seven or eight teams--each with a Santa, a first responder escort, a team of elves, and a vanload of gifts--to handle dozens of stops each night. It takes a lot of effort, but I think it’s the most fun we have all year.”

The visits have become a favorite tradition locally, and social media was awash in photos of Santa with smiling children in numerous homes across town.

“It was our first year participating, and we couldn’t be more grateful,” said Erica Bonanno of Lexington Avenue. “Not only for all the hard work to make this event even happen, and of course Santa visiting, but also for the whole donation aspect. I couldn’t be more proud to call Cranford home.”

EDITOR'S NOTE: Special thanks to Andrew Feldman for providing information and photos.