By John Burton
RED BANK — Santa Claus is answering the letters from children.
Spoiler Alert: It’s not really Santa. But this holiday season members of the Red Bank Rotary Club have taken on the responsibility of acting as Santa’s helpers by answering the letters left by kids in the designated “mailboxes” – letters that expressed the sweetness of the young as well as, at times, tugging at the heartstrings.
The two locations, one at the borough’s U.S. Post Office, 171 Broad St., on the east side, and at the borough pocket park, Ralph “Johnny Jazz” Gatta Park, at the Drs. James Parker Boulevard/Shrewsbury Avenue intersection, collected about a total of 107 letters from area youth to the jolly, chubby North Pole resident.
Among them were about 23 written in Spanish, which will be answered by employees of the borough Parks and Recreation Department, according to David Prown, a borough resident and club member. Unfortunately, there were a considerable number without return addresses and no way to send Santa’s response, Prown said.
It was Prown who first proposed that the club undertake the holiday task. Prown, long known for his community activism and efforts for area youth, said he wondered “Whatever happens to these letters?”
“I heard, generally, that they went unanswered,” he said, believing it would be a good project for the local Rotary Club. “And they were thrilled we were taking ownership,” he explained, referring to the parks and rec department.
“What better way to bring a little joy into the holiday season?” asked club member Bill Donnelly, Middletown.
Donnelly, Prown and the others gathered Tuesday night at the Maple Avenue offices of the Kerr Agency, a commercial insurance firm to write the responses.
“This is great. This is what it’s all about,” added club member and borough resident Ken Duffy.
The Rotary Club’s motto has always been “Service Above Self,” members noted. And while the larger organization works on substantial fundraising and big projects, this little group of local members works on smaller efforts to help the community, Donnelly explained. “Our goal is to become the go-to people for small service efforts,” such as this, he said. “It builds a legacy of service.”
The letters came from kids in Red Bank and those just traveling through, with some letters having return addresses as far away as Toms River in Ocean County.
The plan for the club members was to take what personal information they could glean from the letters (the children’s names, names of siblings and parents, and so on) and incorporate it into the response. The returning letters are left pretty general and don’t make any promises, explaining how busy Santa and the elves are this time of year, telling the kids “I’m so proud to see you on the good/nice list” and how happy Santa Claus is in be visiting their homes next week.
The youngsters for the most part ask for what you would expect from a 2015 Christmas list: iPhone 6, Xbox video game consoles, DVDs of “Frozen” and Hoverboards. A number of girls were hoping for Shopkins, cute, grocery-themed collectables that are very hot this year. Another boy asked for “Everything ‘Star Wars,’” closing the letter with “and hurry.”
One child attached a Toys “R” Us discount coupon, so Santa could get a break on the cost. “You got to love this,” observed a chuckling Justin Sonta, Middletown. Another letter Sonta read and responded to, said “I was really good this year even when I’m fighting with my sister.”
Club member Barbara Nevius, a Red Bank resident, read a letter from a little boy who was asking for warm clothes for himself and his two sisters, telling Santa it’s always cold in their home.
Another young child asked for a box of pencils, Prown noted.
“That touches you,” Prown said.
“You kind of wish you could go and deliver these things to some of these kids,” Middletown resident and club member Justin Hoffman acknowledged.
Any requests for clothing will be forwarded to the Red Bank Police Benevolent Association (PBA) which will try to answer the need, Prown said.
Club members said this will become an annual effort for them. “It’s about doing little things that can have an impact,” Donnelly believes.
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