There was little danger of either crying or pouting at union headquarters on Dec. 10, when Santa Claus came to town — or at least to the UFT — for the first time since 2019. The halls were decked and spirits were bright as the UFT welcomed 80 children from eight city shelters to a special holiday celebration organized in partnership with the Coalition for the Homeless.
UFT members contributed more than $4,000 and almost 1,000 toys to the union’s toy drive, which is organized each year by the UFT Elementary School Division for students in need. Fortunately, there was no need for Santa to make his list or check it twice — UFT volunteers played the part of his elves, sorting the gifts by age and by interest.
Children who attended the party were invited to choose a gift to take home, and the Coalition for the Homeless distributed hundreds of other toys to city shelters. Among those receiving gifts were 20 newly arrived migrant students who attend a Brooklyn high school.
“We really have to thank our members for caring and making sure our kids have gifts every year,” said Vice President for Elementary Schools Karen Alford.
Children who attended the party enjoyed a magic show, crafts, games, and manicures and nail art offered by student volunteers from Queens Technical HS. UFT volunteers served a festive lunch, and costumed characters were on hand to entertain the children.
The man of the hour, of course, was Santa Claus himself, who managed to appear before the children’s wondering eyes despite arriving by subway rather than sleigh.
“It feels very significant to be able to give children a little spark of joy during the holiday season,” said Teresa Bello, a pre-K teacher at PS 185 in Manhattan and a returning volunteer.
Bello herself knows what it’s like to spend Christmas in a shelter.
“Through the good graces of the community, that’s how I was able to have Christmas as a kid,” she said. “So now I want to be able to give back.”