By CHRISTINE GRAEF
© St. Petersburg Times, published December 3, 2000
Decked out with ribbons and bells, a vintage firetruck once again this year will carry Santa on his rounds through East Lake. It will be the third year East Lake's firefighters escort Santa as he delivers gifts to waiting children.
"About 95 percent of our people volunteer to be a part of the program," firefighter Chuck Coit said. "It's rewarding. The only guys who can't help are the ones who just don't have the time."
Deliveries will be made from 6 to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday through Dec. 22. Last year, 37 firefighters paid visits to about 2,300 children and adults in East Lake.
"It's a way for us to give back to the community and reward children," Lt. Scott Hanney said.
Hanney brought up the idea for the program after Oldsmar began a similar Santa program, and it has grown each year.
The 1961 American LaFrance Fire Engine used to drive Santa through East Lake was purchased for less than $2,500 four years ago in Pennsylvania. It was brought by flat-bed trailer to Florida for use in fire prevention and public education. Fully restored by volunteers, the red and white engine is equipped with a siren and has benches and seat belts so about 15 children at a time can ride.
Last year, firefighters offered rides to children. This year, to ensure Santa's punctuality, there will be no rides.
"We can make other arrangements for that," Coit said.
During Christmas rides, Santa sits on the bench. Santa is played by firefighters and Fire Commissioner James Galloway, who, Coit said, "plays the best Santa."
Coit played Santa last year and said this year's program will have a few guidelines to eliminate the delays that arose last year when Santa was late for some appointments.
"Last year we booked so tightly that when we passed a child who waved at us, we had to stop," Coit said. "Santa doesn't pass anyone by. But it made us late for families who were waiting."
Santa's visits are scheduled when parents, whose children have sent letters to Santa in care of the Fire Department, call and make an appointment to have Santa visit. Parents supply the presents.
Coit said this year gifts are limited to one per child and must be no larger than a shoe box. Names must be printed clearly on the presents.
Coit suggests having cameras ready before Santa arrives. He also said that block parties are encouraged.
"Groups of people make the event more festive," Coit said.
Firefighters said the fun of being with co-workers and seeing the expressions on the faces of children who are lifted onto Santa's lap keep the program fun.
"The thing that got me last year was seeing a letter from a little kid," Coit said. "It was printed by a child who could barely write and had a picture he drew of snow and a Christmas tree. It made it all worthwhile."
The program is funded by community donations, with much of the money going to the Shriners Burn Camp in Clearwater. A small sum is set aside for maintenance of the American LaFrance Fire Engine.
For information, call East Lake Fire and Rescue at (727) 785-4939.
The East Lake High School Flight Night Committee is seeking donations to sponsor an alcohol, drug free all-night graduation party on June 7 for more than 350 teenagers.
From 10 p.m. to 5 a.m., seniors will dance, sing karaoke, enjoy refreshments and play pool and air hockey and tackle an indoor rock-climbing wall.
Business sponsorship ensures this event takes place. Door prizes also are needed.
For information, call Cheryl Corrente at (727) 943-9459.
There are guided hikes at Brooker Creek Preserve from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Saturdays. Reservations required. For information, call (727) 943-4003.
The East Lake Band Boosters will hold its monthly general membership meeting at 7:30 p.m. Monday in the East Lake High School band room. For information, call Andrea Schleicher at (727) 547-7834.
November's Oldsmar/East Lake Rotary Student of the Month is Tara Petzoldt, a fourth-grader at Brooker Creek Elementary School.
Tara's teachers, Christine Bates and Joan Jennings, gave her perfect scores for responsibility, respect, cooperation, attendance and attitude.
"Tara is an excellent role model for all students," Jennings wrote on a nomination form. "She strives to always do her best no matter how much work it takes. She is never critical, always helpful and never complains."
Tara, 9, plays piano and soccer. She is the daughter of David and Donna Petzoldt.
Charles Camisasca was named Brooker Creek Elementary School's East Lake 2000 Citizen of the Month after being nominated by teacher Patricia Quiri.
The 8-year-old second-grader, the son of Ronald and Susan Camisasca, was given high scores for being a good friend and leader, reliable, cooperative and positive.
"Charlie is an outstanding student who is academically motivated to excel," Quiri wrote on the nomination form. "He always listens attentively and gives the speaker his undivided attention."
Charles plays soccer, basketball and golf.
- If you have news or photos about East Lake organizations, churches, schools, neighborhoods or people, please contact Christine Graef at the North Pinellas Times. You can call her at (727) 445-4229, e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org or mail material to the North Pinellas Times, 34342 U.S. 19 N, Palm Harbor, FL 34684.