By REX WILLIAMS / The Courier, Dec. 27
The children inside of Lou Auriemma’s Keyport home began to grow wild with excitement as a festively-decorated fire engine blasting holiday tunes traveled down the street on Saturday, Dec. 22.
A few of the eight children present, such as 10-year-old John and 9-year-old Kristen, knew exactly what was coming. The younger ones of the bunch, however, such as 4-year-old Sean and 1-year-old Jim, had no idea that a certain portly North Pole resident was inside the fire engine and had taken a trip to see them.
“The fire company really does a great thing by having Santa visit all the kids around town,” Auriemma said. “A lot of the children from around the neighborhood come here every year to celebrate. Some are my nieces and nephews and other just live nearby. It’s a good time.”
According to Eagle Hose Fire Company Captain Rick Ely, Auriemma’s Washington St. residence was just one of approximately 40 planned stops for Santa and Mrs. Claus in Keyport this year. In fact, this marks the 20th year that the company has been delivering gifts to the children of the borough’s Browns Point section. He said letters are distributed to the various residents in November asking if families would like to have Santa Claus visit their home. If so, parents drop off gifts for their children to the fire company that are then brought along for the visit.
“This is something that the kids really seem to enjoy and it just keeps growing and growing over the years,” Ely said. “We should be seeing about 160 kids this year. Some of them remember us from previous years and know that it is coming but others have no idea. They all get really excited.”
Ely, a 25-year veteran with the fire company, said that several volunteers as well as a few neighborhood children accompany Santa as he and Mrs. Claus travel on a small trailer behind a brightly lit fire engine. Along the path, Ely said many families additionally donate canned goods that the fire company collects for a local food pantry.
Fire Chief Bill Larkin has also helped with the event since its inception. He said the local visits are always successful and everyone involved has a great time.
“It’s a really nice thing for the kids and people in the neighborhood to enjoy,” he said. “People have even begun planning holiday parties around when Santa will be coming to the house. We wish we could do more, but the other fire companies in Keyport do their respective areas as well.”
Ely added that one of his favorite parts of organizing the annual event is finding out some of the parents that participate used to receive visits from Santa during their youth.
“It’s nice to see that this has become a tradition that gets carried on from generation to generation for many families,” he said. “Every year the list just keeps growing. It’s a fun drive.”