Serving Gogebic, Iron and Ontonagon Counties

Big turnout for VFW Santa drive-thru


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Bessemer - The turnout was so overwhelming for the drive-thru Santa event on Saturday that the host crew from the Bessemer VFW Post 3673 wasn't sure they were going to have enough gift bags.

When all was said and done the volunteers had handed out 225 of the 250 gift bags to a line of cars that formed three circles in the VFW parking lot and stretched for a couple of blocks east down alleys to avoid congestion on Bessemer streets.

Each car had a chance to stop at the VFW entrance where Santa and Mrs. Claus were on chairs waving greetings as their elves brought gift bags to their vehicle windows.

"It was great," said Donna Frello, post commander. "Everybody got an opportunity to stop in front and a few of the children had cookies for Santa cookies and one of them some candy."

Cody and Nichole Durant, of Ironwood, brought their 15-month-old daughter, Meadow, to the event. They were second in line in a stream of cars that formed three lines in the parking lot.

"This is her first time meeting Santa," Nichole said. "She was a little bit young yet for her first Christmas."

Nichole is expecting her second child.

Ray and Debbie Ojito, of Ironwood, said they usually attend the holiday events for kids in Ironwood and Hurley. With those events canceled they decided to come to the Bessemer VFW event.

"I thought this was terrific that they're still doing something like this," Ray said. "The community has really come through for people in the area. I think they've done a great job."

Santa and Mrs. Claus showed up Thursday to help the others pack gift bags with cookies, candy, fudge, a toy, coloring books, and crayons. It took just 90 minutes to pack the 250 gift bags.

On Saturday, the Claus duo were supported by a host of volunteer elves, helping to hand out gifts, bring joy and direct traffic..

The volunteer bakers provided so many baked goods that each gift bag had around five cookies, Frello said.

The VFW organized the event because it was not possible to hold its usual annual holiday party for kids due to crowd limitations requirements for the COVID-19 pandemic. The indoor party would attract around 150 children and parents and so the volunteers prepared 250 gift bags for the drive-thru event, assuming there would be more than usual with the lack of other area Santa events.

"We're doing it just because we need to acknowledge that this is Christmas and we're a community organization and regardless of COVID-19, we can be safe and still do a little something for the community and the kids," Frello said. "That's our whole objective."

The goal is to return to the Christmas party next year with lunch, sleigh rides, caroling, crafts and story time, she said. The drive-thru worked to do something safely.

"I was glad that we were able to do something for the holidays," Frello said. "We generally do something and it would be sad if we couldn't do anything."