A decades-long holiday tradition brought smiles to a group of young children at John A. Coleman Children's Rehabilitation Center in White Plains Wednesday, as students enjoyed a much anticipated visit from Santa, Rudolph and Frosty the Snowman.
Volunteers from the White Plains Fire Department have visited the school every holiday season for more than 40 years. This year Santa handed out stuffed animals to eager children while other volunteers provided hugs and high-fives.
“Every year it gets more exciting and more exciting,” said Maureen Tomkiel, the school's executive director. “I get goosebumps every year, just seeing how excited and how happy the children are.”
Special education students from 18 months to six years old crowded into the school's lobby for the event. It is a day firefighters look forward to as well, and a tradition that has been passed down for generations.
“We inherited it from the previous bunch of guys that did it,” said firefighter Jim Russell. “It’s something that now we are grooming the younger guys to take over for us.”
Some of the firefighters participating Wednesday said they have been visiting the school during the holidays for up to 30 years. Not only do volunteers bring Santa and his holiday friends to the school, they gather donated gifts from stores to give to the children.
“It’s an emotional thing,” Russell said. “When they see the characters come in their eyes light up.”
For those that attend, the visit is a reminder of what the holiday season is all about.
“The children really embody the Christmas spirit of giving and caring,” Tomkiel said. “If you look at their faces they just become so enthralled, it lifts all of our spirits.”