“This is the most wonderful time of the year and I want to say Merry Christmas New York,” Claus exclaimed to the eagerly awaiting audience of nearly 4,000 special needs children at JFK International Airport. “I want you to promise Santa to be very good. Also, I want to ask everyone, do you believe?”
Shelly Della Rocca, the chief mayor and president of the Community Mayors, has helped put together the annual Operation Santa Claus event every year since her father, founder of the nonprofit group, handed it off to her several years ago.
Formerly a parade in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, the annual event is now held for a growing crowd of children from all over the city at JFK's Hangar 19.
“It really grew into this huge special party for children,” Della Rocca said. “It’s a day of magic and it’s a wonderful day.”
Nearly $100,000 is raised every year at their annual Mayor’s Gala, held this year on November 13 at The ElCaribe Country Club in Mill Basin.
In addition to the donated hangar space, volunteers from the NYPD, FDNY and Department of Sanitation also donated their time to help collect gifts for the children.
State Senator Tony Avella has been involved in the Community Mayors program for several years and said he is amazed at how much they are able to do year after year.
“Everybody here is volunteering their time for these kids,” Avella said. “They get an opportunity to come, get lunch, get toys and they get an opportunity to meet Santa Claus.”
After nearly 60 years, Della Rocca said the group is currently looking for additional membership, including corporate sponsors to help fund it in the future.
“We have diminished membership as it is aging out,” Della Rocca explained.
Delta Air Lines and Macy’s currently sponsor the Community Mayors.
“They give us so much for this party, but we’re all volunteers and we need some secretarial help,” she said. “We do so much for the children, and we just want to assure that the legacy will live on.”