More than a hundred cars lined up in front of Newton City Hall on Tuesday night to donate their gifts for the Newton Police Department’s annual holiday gift drive, “Stuff A Cruiser,” according to Newton Community Pride President Howard Sholkin. In lieu of participating in the usual in-person festivities that Newton typically holds this time of year, families drove through a display of lights, Christmas music, and volunteers wearing holiday costumes.
Sponsored by The Village Bank as well as Newton Community Pride and Newton Parks, Recreation and Culture, the gift drive and holiday celebration collected gifts for the children of Newton, ranging from newborn to 10 years old, according to Sholkin. Families could also opt to donate a grocery store gift card to support Newton food pantries. Families received t-shirts with the Newton Community Pride logo and glow sticks in exchange for their acts of charity.
The Newton Department of Cultural Development strung lights around the trees in front of City Hall, creating a winter wonderland for the event goers. While waiting for their gifts to be collected, families watched volunteers dancing in snowman costumes and holiday-themed puppets waving high above their cars. Mayor Ruthanne Fuller greeted attendees.
Aside from its drive-thru modality, this year’s drive was also different from other years for the entertainment it offered.
“Usually it’s a concert inside of City Hall with a children’s entertainer, and then we all come outside and the lights go on and celebrate that way,” Paula Gannon, the director of cultural development for the City of Newton, said.
But due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Gannon said that this sizable celebration was no longer feasible. In order to comply with the social-distancing regulations, the sponsors had to devise a safe yet fun way to collect donations this holiday season.
“The Department of Cultural Development in the City of Newton, came up with the idea of having a drive-thru so people stayed in their cars,” Sholkin said.
Because of these changes, volunteers were unsure of whether there would be a big turn-out for the event, Gannon said, but Tuesday’s attendance surpassed their expectations.
Gannon said that the event was supposed to last from 5:30 p.m. to 6:00 p.m., but cars started showing up at 5:20 p.m. and did not stop coming to donate presents until 6:20 p.m.
Volunteers usually place donated gifts into a police cruiser to be taken back to the station and sorted, but the high volume of donations rendered this difficult.
“[The driver] barely had room to sit in the car to drive it back to the station, because it was so overflowing,” Gannon said.
In previous years, the Department of Cultural Development typically runs a New Year’s Eve food pantry drive at City Hall to collect gift card donations, but because this event was canceled due to the pandemic, the residents of Newton stepped up and dropped off their gift card donations at Tuesday’s drive.
“We had a basket full of gift cards for the food pantries, and they’ll be separated out and distributed between our new pantries in the next couple of days,” Gannon said.
If families were unable to attend the drive-thru, they still have the opportunity to help the cause. Families can drop off unwrapped toys at any Newton branch of The Village Bank through Dec. 15, and can leave gift card donations at the Mayor’s Office in Newton City Hall.
Gannon said that participants’ generosity at the gift drive demonstrated the spirit of Newton.
“You know we live in the best city,” Gannon said. “It’s a tough time, but as we always say, we’re going to get through this pandemic, and we know we’re in it together, so #Newtontogether. That’s our little mantra these past few months, and Tuesday night was a perfect example of that.”
Featured Image by Josie McNeill / Heights Editor