This year, Santa Claus was faced with an unprecedented conundrum the jolly treasure couldn’t solve alone.
The NYPD joins St. Nick every holiday season at the Ronald McDonald House located on 405 East 73rd Street to distribute gifts and meet the young residents suffering from severe illnesses. However, in our post-pandemic world, the possibility of transferring COVID-19 to some of the adolescent patients during the annual event was too great a risk. In order to keep spreading the holiday cheer, Santa called upon some local New York heroes for help.
Emergency services briefly blocked off East 73rd Street between First and York Avenues where FDNY Engine Company 44 parked their fire truck directly outside of Ronald McDonald House. Children flocked to their windows at the sight of pulsating red lights strewn across their walls from the icy road below. Dressed in pajamas, they waved frantically at members of the FDNY and NYPD, and then it happened — Santa Claus arrived.
Ringing a bell, Santa traded in his classic sleigh and reindeer for the ladder bucket of the Engine 44, where the FDNY lifted him into the chilly air and right up to the excited patients who managed to see their holiday hero up close and personal against all odds, and without having to leave their rooms. Tiny arms could be seen outstretched from their windows as cries of “Santa!” reverberated off nearby buildings.
Although it looked very different this year, the annual event organized by Officer PJ Conley, along with other members of the NYPD’s 19th Precinct was made possible thanks to Fund the First, a trusted and verified crowdfunding platform solely created for first responders and military personnel.
Using this virtual donation site, they received over $4,000 to purchase toys. Once all of the gifts were accumulated, they were able to donate $1,430 directly to Ronald McDonald House.
“These kids are going through some of the toughest times in their lives, and to be able to bring a smile on their face around Christmas time, especially in 2020 with all of the COVID stuff going on, it means the world to me to be able to do this every year, and to be able to team up with the FDNY. It’s a special occasion. That is why we are calling it the Miracle on 73rd Street. We didn’t think it would happen with COVID, but we made it happen,” said Conley.
The joy of giving is what keeps Conley coming back to organize the event. Even in normal circumstances, it’s a trying task gathering funds and working out logistics, but the ability to shed happiness on children who need it the most trumps any obstacle, even COVID. Normally, the NYPD is able to distribute the toys directly to the children, however since many of them have compromised immune systems they decided to be creative on how to make it a special holiday. FDNY firefighter Bobby Jones devised a plan with Conley to implement the firetruck as Santa’s sleigh.
“Being able to do this every year, and just bring joy to people, it’s an incredible feeling,” Conley said.
It was a Miracle on 73rd Street when the @NYPD19Pct and members of @FDNY brought #SantaClaus to the children at @rmhnewyork thanks to help from @FundtheFirst #HappyHolidays #nyc #uppereastside pic.twitter.com/GBSTpk2ObO
— Dean_Moses (@Dean_Moses) December 17, 2020
The elation was too much for some children, who rushed to the lobby where they interacted with officers and firefighters through the glass in some truly heartwarming moments. One young man even stepped foot outside where he was greeted with a standing ovation and afforded an opportunity to ring Santa’s bell.
Fund the First began assisting the NYPD’s 19th Precinct’s toy drive at New York-Presbyterian Hospital last year. Kevin Darcey, Chief Marketing Officer and co-founder and Robert Garland, CEO and founder, were so inspired that they decided to take part in the event again this year.
“PJ Conley coordinated it, and we are just here because we have the platform to raise some of the money to buy the toys, and we’re happy to be a part of it. Fund the First is always there for people like him,” Darcey said.
In keeping with social distancing measures, the event concluded with officers piling mountains of toys in the Ronald McDonald House’s entranceway before Santa was transported back to the North Pole as he yelled: “I will see you next week!”