PHOTO: Santa’s elves participating in the Phone Calls From Santa program are pictured at the Red Bank Recreational offices at borough hall. They are (left to right) (back row): RBR senior Ainsley Thistelwaite, Red Bank, program organizer Enrico Ciabattoni, RBR Key Club Advisor Christin Outwin (front row) freshman Elizabeth Maguire, Little Silver; Cayla Lamegos-Outwin, Paul Lamegos-Outwin, freshman Margaret Mullaney, Little Silver and senior Emily Maier, Red Bank.
LITTLE SILVER, NJ – A big part of the Christmas season for little girls and boys is visiting Santa Claus and reciting him their Christmas wish list. That is not always possible for some boys and girls in the Red Bank community, especially those whose families do not own or drive cars and can’t take them to visit the local mall, where Santa usually sets up shop. So nine years ago, community leader David Prown assisted by his good friend Enrico Ciabattoni, facilitated a special communication with Santa Clause and those kids in Red Bank he might have missed.
With the sponsorship of The Red Bank Parks and Recreation Department, flyers were distributed to students in grades K-5 at the Red Bank Primary School and Middle School along with the Charter School announcing the Phone Calls From Santa program. Students wishing communication with someone from Santa’s workshop would sign up by giving their names, phone numbers and times they were available during the evenings in December when the calls would be made. The children could also request if they wished to receive their calls in English or Spanish. The calls were made by community volunteers. (This year that included, among others, students from the Red Bank Regional (RBR) Key Club, Spanish Honor Society and International Baccalaureate program.)
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Since Enrico Ciabattoni took over the organization of the program in 2014 response has grown to over 500 phone calls and a Red Bank holiday tradition. Technology has streamlined the process from the earliest days at the offices of the Two River Community Bank in Tinton Falls which donated their office and phone space for this purpose. Today, mostly every volunteer has a cell phone; although hard lines are still used at the Red Bank municipal building where, this year, the operation took place during the evenings of December 12 and 13.
The callers are given a suggested script to start the conversation with the often speechless, but exuberant young children on the other end of the phone.
They may state, “Hi I’m one of Santa’s elves calling from Santa’s workshop at the North Pole. I am just checking the Naughty and Nice list, and if you were nice we’re wondering if we got your gift request correct?… We’ll try to fit your requests on Santa’s sleigh…. Remember to go to bed early on Christmas Eve, and don’t forget the milk and cookies!”
Parents report that their children get so excited; they run all over their house with their phones glued to their ears.
Enrico Ciabattoni comments, “We sincerely thank each and every one of the volunteers for their time and energy and for keeping the best part of the Christmas spirit alive for the children of Red Bank.” He adds, “I continue the event because the conversation with the children is awesome. They get the thrill of speaking to someone from Santa’s workshop at the North Pole. The excitement and joy in their voices is infectious to the point of making the caller feel good too. It’s just a lot of fun for the people on both ends of the telephone.”
Attesting to those sentiments, RBR senior Emily Maier stated, “I thought it was really cute talking to the kids and helping them have a wonderful Christmas.”
RBR freshman Amy Serreno added, “I was thankful I had gone. It was a really sweet thing to do… The young kids stole my heart.”