While in past years, high winds and foul weather had previously kept Santa from making his aerial approach, this was the first time Santa was denied access to Secaucus on national security concerns, testifying to the impact the Sept. 11 attacks have had on everyday life. With President George W. Bush anticipated to attend the annual Army-Navy football game, all air traffic the Meadowlands area was restricted.
Instead, Santa arrived at the high school via the town's Clarendon Tower fire engine.
Each Christmas, the Secaucus chapter of the Kiwanis Club routinely brings in Santa and Mrs. Santa into Secaucus by helicopter with gifts and cheerful words for hundreds of Secaucus kids. In the past, Mr. and Mrs. Santa made their landing at Clarendon School - but because of the addition to that school, the landing was scheduled for the high school instead.
The sudden dictate by federal authorities threatened to leave hundreds of disappointed kids standing outside the high school in anticipation of the annual pre-Christmas Eve visit and left local Kiwanis members scrambling to get Santa there.
"We tried to get permission for the flight, but the feds said 'no way,' " said Kiwanis member Nick Costantino.
In learning about the flight restriction the evening before the scheduled landing, Kiwanis members sought alternative means to bring Mr. and Mrs. Santa in.
Mayor Dennis Elwell and Deputy Mayor John Reilly helped them secure the fire engine.
Waited in the cafeteria
Inside the high school cafeteria, Kiwanis Club members, along with their high school equivalent, the Key Club, waited with a variety of treats for the kids. These included coloring books, stocking stuffers, small trinkets such as small stuffed teddy bears, and candy.
"We broke with tradition this year," said Frank Pinto, a Kiwanis member. "In the past we gave out chocolate Santas."
Because of a mistake in shipping from a candy company, the Kiwanis gave out chocolate coins wrapped in Christmas decorations.
While the Kiwanis didn't set out milk and cookies for Santa and his wife, they did put out a variety of cakes, coffee and tea, donated by C&R Snack Foods of Butler - the company for which Pinto works.
Asking for Monopoly
The kids, of course, did not come solely for the goodies, but also to have their talk with Santa concerning presents they expect to receive on Christmas Eve.
Five-year-old Nicholas Marciano said he had a list of gifts he intended to ask for from Santa Topping this list, he said, was the game Monopoly Jr.
Helping to keep the cheerful mood during the wait for Santa, the Kiwanis also arranged for a huggable bear and rather scary-looking snowman to pose for pictures.
But the kids abandoned such preoccupations the moment the fire siren sounded announcing Santa's arrival. The children, small or large, made their rush towards the doors leading to the sidewalk outside to greet Mr. and Mrs. Santa.
The famous couple waved from the bucket of the fire tower as if seated on the back of a float in Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Parents and kids waved back, apparently un-phased by the passing of military aircraft overhead - propeller-driven gun ships guarding America's skies.
Brief history of the Secaucus Kiwanis Club
The Kiwanis has been one of the most active civic organizations in town, contributing money and assistance to the school system, library and needy residents since the local branch was first formed in 1957. They helped set up the marching band, the town pool, and drug and alcohol prevention programs.
Although the Kiwanis focuses largely on kids, its contributions to the community have touched almost every aspect of town life. The Kiwanis have long been active in making sure the town's neediest residents are taken care of through its food bank and food basket program. The food bank is open year 'round to lend local residents a helping hand. On Thanksgiving, Kiwanis supply food baskets for the town's more needy families. On Christmas, the club also supplies gifts and financial help.
The group raises its funds by publishing a yearly phone directory, in which local business people advertise. Shortly after Secaucus High School was built in 1976, the club established the Key Club at the school.
The Kiwanis support the Secaucus Public Library by supplying literature to the Kiwanis book shelf and have given money for some of the library's computer services.
In sports, Kiwanis helped initiate the Secaucus Little League. The club always has sponsored a Kiwanis team and helped the league financially and in many other ways. It also has supported the Babe Ruth Baseball team, the girls' softball team, the American Legion team, and the athlete of the year awards with donations and often with uniforms.
Scholarships are a yearly event. The Kiwanis gives up to $6,000 a year to kids going onto college and maintains a reserve fund of $2,000 to assist needy students towards the payment of college expenses. It also sponsors a student to attend the American Legion's "New Jersey Boys State Leadership Program" and also sends a student to the ``President's classroom program'' in Washington, D.C. yearly.
Kiwanis has donated to the school system for the purchase of the "Here's Looking at you, 2000" program, a drug and alcohol abuse curriculum which is now in place at all public and parochial schools in Secaucus. The club also joined the Secaucus Municipal Alliance, an organization which raises funds towards substance abuse prevention, and has routinely brought in inspirational speakers to talk to kids about avoiding drugs. - Al Sullivan