It was a day of wonder and thrills, a chance to fist-bump with the mighty Bumble Bee Transformer and dance with the Black Panther. But it was Santa Claus who won the hearts of the 120 children from homeless shelters across the city who lined up to whisper in his ear at the UFT’s annual holiday party, organized with the help of the Coalition for the Homeless, on Dec. 15.
The children, ages 5 to 13, were welcomed to union headquarters with gift bags and the skirling bagpipes of teacher Richie Niccolish of PS 174, Queens. Then, they were shown to their tables in a room filled with balloons and music and abuzz with games, face painters and nail polishers. As the children quietly took it all in, the nimble Black Panther and the robotic Bumble Bee lumbered in, just clearing the open double doors.
It took a moment and suddenly everyone was up and swarming the new arrivals. Ten-year old Zyrell Johnson fist-bumped the towering robot and gave him a “What’s up.” Meanwhile, 5-year old Chinera, oblivious to the movie heroes, was oohing and aahing her way through her gift bag.
“Our priority for this holiday party is to ensure that the children have fun,” said UFT Vice President Karen Alford, who organized the event. “The gifts, meal and activities all make for a great day and bring out the child in all of us.”
As lunch began, a troubled guest looked at her salad and asked, “Is that all we’re going to get to eat?” She brightened up when the sliders, chicken fingers and fries arrived and was ecstatic with the make-your-own ice cream sundaes at the meal’s conclusion.
Then it was back to partying, showing off dance steps on the crowded dance floor and competing in games like ring toss where there were prizes. All afternoon, the face painters made boys look frightening and girls look beautiful.
Four high school seniors from Queens Technical HS were busy at two manicure tables. Andrea Lingstuyl, their teacher, said, “I was surprised that each girl knew just what she wanted when she sat down — glitter polish and multi-colored nails.”
In the midst of all the noise and activity, Miles the Magician brought quiet and breathless wonder. How did he make the water disappear, get a volunteer to pull yards and yards of paper from his mouth or make a ripped-up piece of newspaper suddenly appear whole again?
And, like all parties, it came to an end. But still there was more. Age-appropriate gifts, donated by UFT members, were waiting for each boy and girl on the way out.
“This party gives the children a broader perspective,” said paraprofessional Sharon Anderson of PS 111 in the Bronx, one of the day’s many volunteers. “They see more than just the daily trip from shelter to school and back again.”