Patchogue Village’s Parks and Recreation director Maria Giustizia is back at it again, now featuring a mail drop box for letters to Santa outside her office on Bay Avenue.
It’s the first year the village collected letters this way, being that it’s the first time in over 50 years the annual nighttime Christmas parade has been cancelled due to COVID-19.
“We decorated the mailbox as a candy cane; it’s beautiful and has a huge sign made up by J-Signs,” Giustizia said. “It’s the real deal.”
Usually, she said, the post office helps collect hundreds of letters to Santa during the parade.
Then, she and her staff of about three write back individually to each child. This year is a little different, though; instead, there has only been a few dozen letters submitted and instead of the department’s team, it’s just Giustizia. Her full-timer is on personal leave and all her part-timers have been furloughed. However, she does have the help of the parks department’s only remaining part-timer, Ashley Blydenburg, who lends a hand for events.
“I think it’s great that we can do something for the community during these crazy times,” said Blydenburg. “I know a lot of families need some type of normalcy, and even though we still are masked up and socially distancing, I think they really appreciate the fact that they can still participate in events and programs like these.”
The best part, she added, is seeing all the kids so happy and cheerful.
“I am glad I get to be a part of that,” she continued.
Together, they have already wrote back to about 20 children, most of which have asked for items such as dolls and doctor kits, and some that have even asked if the North Pole has COVID, too.
Last Saturday, Giustizia also hosted their first drive-up pickup of magic reindeer food and free fun packs at the Recreational Center, 380 Bay Avenue in Patchogue. Dozens of children were served.
“Maria just works hard,” mayor Paul Pontieri said of her dedication to keep the local children happy during the pandemic. “She is always trying to improve programs and add new ones. If it wasn’t for her, a lot more would have been cancelled this year.”
All letters were to be self-addressed and stamped, and were guaranteed to make it to the North Pole.