IRVINGTON, NJ — Mayor Tony Vauss and the entire Irvington community, including the Irvington public schools, the Department of Recreation and Cultural Affairs, the Police Department, the Fire Department, the Chamber of Commerce, the Springfield Avenue Business Improvement District and hundreds of children and adults, came together on Wednesday, Dec. 3, for the annual Holiday Tree-Lighting Ceremony in front of the Municipal Building in Civic Square.
Hot chocolate, doughnuts and other holiday treats, including candy and toys, were available, thanks to Don’s Diner and the other businesses and public and private donors. Choruses from the Union Avenue Middle School Music Magnet and Florence Avenue School performed for the audience at the annual event.
Irvington Police Sgt. Sheyla Marquez dressed up as an elf, along with her fellow Irvington police officers and firefighters, who transformed into well-known Christmas and holiday season characters, including The Grinch from the Dr. Seuss book “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas,” Jack Skellington and Sally from the movie “A Nightmare Before Christmas,” Elmo from Sesame Street and an assortment of others. Santa Claus made his annual appearance, riding atop an Irvington Fire Department fire engine to spread toys and holiday cheer to all the little girls and boys, including Dight Peeples, 18, who won one of the giant stockings filled with candy and toys that were given away to a select few, regardless of age.
“I got it for my little brother, Shakee,” said Peeples on Thursday, Dec. 3. “I’m not going to show it to him until Christmas. I’m going to have to keep it in my trunk until then. This was a good thing, because the mayor is helping the kids out and most of the people don’t have stuff like this.”
Little Kioni Lewis, 8, said she got her mother, Bernice Winston, to bring her out to this year’s event for one specific reason, and she said it wasn’t for the hot chocolate, candy, toys or to see Santa, even though all of those things were very good things.
“I got a present and I got to see Santa Claus and I got to meet the mayor, but not in order,” said Kioni on Thursday, Dec. 3. “It should be Santa Claus, the mayor and I got a gift. I gave him a Christmas card, because he’s my mayor and I respect my mayor.”
Kioni also said she didn’t mind giving Vauss a gift at the same event where she and hundreds of other township children received gifts from him and the rest of the community. She said the mayor deserved to get something because “he’s been nice, because he took care of Irvington.”
Winston said she couldn’t agree more with her daughter, and she said events such as the 2015 annual Holiday Tree-Lighting Ceremony are the reason why they both feel that way.
“It was a good thing,” said Winston on Thursday, Dec. 3. “This was our first time coming out, because she really wanted to come and meet her mayor. She did the card up a few days ago, after they got the paper from school, so she’s been looking forward to it all week. She’s been good all week. She’s really excited. First things first, she wanted to meet her mayor and then she’s excited about her gift, too.”
Winston said, even though this year’s tree-lighting was the first for her and Kioni, it wouldn’t be the last. She said she was very impressed by how clean and safe it was.
“I loved how the community came out and everybody behaved themselves,” Winston said. “It was a good turnout. Everything was so secure. We will be back next year.”
Vauss said he was grateful to get a very personal gift from Kioni. He also said he was very pleased to hear what Winston had to say, because it is proof his administration’s efforts to deliver on their promise to make Irvington cleaner and safer is being kept.
Vauss also said he doesn’t mind getting to be one of Santa’s Helpers for a night during the holidays, He said it’s one of the perks of his job.
“I love it; just to see the smiles on the children’s faces; everyone is so happy,” said Vauss on Thursday, Dec. 3. “We’re going to give out hundreds of gifts here to our residents, our children and the community. It’s an exciting year. It was a huge turnout this year. I’m just glad that we can do this every year and the weather was pretty nice this evening.”
Vauss also commended Recreation Director Donald Malloy for again helping to coordinate all the logistics needed to ensure the annual Holiday Tree-Lighting is a success.
“Donald is doing a phenomenal job,” said Vauss. “The same goes for Superintendent Dr. Neely Hackett over here, with the students performing. It was just a great event. I’m glad that everybody is buying into the ‘One Team One Dream,’ because it takes all of us to make Irvington strong and that’s our goal. So I look forward to next year. So many exciting things happened in the township this year and we look forward to that happening again in 2016.”