Since it is a project that builds itself upon giving unselfishly, the event has become so popular for the team that alumni are also invited back to help out. This year, the team had special Christmas Magic sweatshirts made up for the annual evening party, which featured a visit from Santa Claus.
Just before Thanksgiving, the Golden Eagles gathered to read letters to Santa that underprivileged children had written. The letters are all received by Christmas Magic, which has been headed by Charlie Russo for more than 25 years.
For the second year in a row, the lacrosse team connected with children who attend a special after-school program in Center Moriches that is run by Helen Fechter at the Clayton-Huey Elementary School. Once a year, the school hosts a special evening when the gym and auditorium are transformed into a winter wonderland.
More than 110 adults and excited children were present on that Thursday evening, not counting the 25 representatives (players, coaches and family members) of the St. Joseph’s team, along with 20 members of the West Hampton High School boys’ lacrosse team, who also provided the gifts for the evening.
After reading the letters to Santa back in November, each Lady Eagle selected one or two specific children and bought several of gifts they were asking for. The team held their own special day at SJC’s Danzi Athletic Center, where they brought their gifts and spent time wrapping each one carefully. Every child on the list ended up with their own labeled bag of gifts. Coach Bob Vlahakis and his wife delivered the bags the next morning to the elementary school. At the school, the bags were organized carefully and put up on the decorated stage where Santa would appear the next evening.
On the night of Christmas Magic, families began filing into the gymnasium at 5 p.m. and found a place at one of the many festive tables that were set up. Unseen by the kids, the St. Joseph’s squad went through the back door and onto the stage, hidden by the curtains. Meanwhile, Frosty the Snowman (played by junior defenseman Kayla Saraniero) appeared out front, entertaining the youngsters. After Frosty warmed up the crowd, Santa himself (Charlie Russo) made an appearance walking through the crowd and posing with the kids. The jolly one climbed up onto the stage and the curtains opened, revealing the members of the St. Joseph’s lacrosse team wearing their specially made red Christmas Magic sweatshirts.
One by one, the children and their parents made it up onto the stage to sit and chat with Santa Claus and his helper, one of the lacrosse players. Santa gave the child one gift to open with the help of a Golden Eagle, then they all posed for a picture. The players then walked the child and their parent back to their tables to open up more gifts and play with them. Some families left the other gifts to take with them and open up on Christmas morning, since there would not be too many other gifts for the children.
The St. Joseph’s players were Santa's helpers throughout the evening, and although they had shopped for the gifts themselves, the presents were given out anonymously and unselfishly. The gratifying acknowledgement of their good tidings came from the happy expressions on the kids’ and parents’ faces.
In the end, the families all left with fond memories and were overwhelmed by the generosity of the lacrosse players. The children were able to feel the joy of Christmas, which would have otherwise been very difficult to experience.
The Golden Eagles left seeing that their efforts had once again, given genuine and heartfelt joy to some young children whose lives they had touched in a very special way.
About St. Joseph's College
St. Joseph's College has been dedicated to providing a diverse population of students in the New York metropolitan area with an affordable education rooted in the liberal arts tradition since 1916. Independent and coeducational, the College provides a strong academic and value-oriented education at the undergraduate and graduate levels, aiming to prepare each student for a life characterized by integrity, intellectual and spiritual values, social responsibility, and service. With campuses located in the Clinton Hill area of Brooklyn and in Patchogue, Long Island, the College offers degrees in more than 26 majors, special course offerings and certificates, affiliated and pre-professional programs.