By Cheryl Conway
No need to schlep to the mall or fight the traffic on Route 46 to see Santa at the old Santa House this month.
The white bearded, jolly old fella has a new residence this season, the Holiday House at Turkey Brook Park in Budd Lake. Since its ribbon cutting on Saturday, Nov. 25, Santa has been welcoming visitors and pets for photos and conversation.
Stop by through Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, on weekends between 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., to visit him at his new house near the fire pit. Visitors can receive a 4X6 inch photo for $10 with Santa, printed on site, free toy and candy cane.
The Holiday House is a joint effort between Mt. Olive Twp. and Kiwanis Club of Mt. Olive Twp. All proceeds collected from photos and donations taken with Santa will go toward fundraisers and projects of the Mt. Olive Kiwanis Club and Foundation.
For more than 20 years, Santa would greet visitors at the red Santa House on Route 46 west, owned by George Poliak on the property of George’s Liquors, now called Patel Liquor & Deli in Budd Lake. Poliak’s son, George Jr. was involved in the JC’s of Mt. Olive, the Junior Chamber of Commerce which became Kiwanis, explains Richard J. Moore, Jr., president of the Kiwanis of Mt. Olive Twp. and former president of the JC’s.
While there has never been an accident involving a visitor or pet at the Santa House, according to Moore, the decision to relocate was in the best interest for safety regarding traffic on Route 26 and limited parking.
“We were presented with an opportunity in everybody’s best interest to move the event to Turkey Brook Park,” says Moore.
Claudia Tomasello, Mt. Olive assistant business administrator, reached out to Moore last February with her idea to relocate the house “to make it more beneficial and safer to the residents,” she says. “It wasn’t safe at all.” Kids who worked it were right on 46; those who stopped had to park across the street, then cross the busy highway. “Attendance was always low.”
Through donations from Dorsey and Semrau, Hunkele Entities in Flanders and McGarry Electric in Budd Lake, the township purchased a 12 inch by 16 inch shed for $3,600 from Amish Mike in Hackettstown, says Tomasello.
Large enough to fit six people inside, the shed is heated with an electric fireplace and decorated with pergo flooring, throw rug and curtains “like you are in a home,” says Tomasello.
They also changed the name to the Holiday House in hopes that the facility be used for other festivities such as an egg hunt on Easter and any other events by other denominations, says Tomasello.
Turkey Brook Park was selected as “it’s a central location in Mt. Olive, right between Budd Lake and Flanders,” says Tomasello. With the “fire pit right there, they can sit by the fire.”
Involved in the Santa House since the early 1990’s, Moore admits to an emotional tie with the former establishment but is pleased with the new headquarters, handicap accessibility, heat and increase of visitors.
“Santa always enjoyed waving to everybody on Route 46,” says Moore.
“It’s handicap accessible,” says Moore. So far, two families with wheelchairs stopped in with “no problem with them getting in or out. We were really happy to see that.” Another boy with braces also visited without any obstacles.
With the old building, organizers tried to make it accessible, he says, “but it was difficult,” with no room for a ramp.
“It was just not practical,” he admits. There are a “lot of benefits to the new site,” says Moore, such as the nearby fire pit, installation and electric heat. “It’s homey; it’s a duplicate of what we had before.”
As in previous years, Kiwanis still manages the house by providing Santa volunteers, helpers and photographers filling 20 three hour shifts.
“We are getting much more visitors primarily because people feel more comfortable coming to the park,” says Moore. “Our initial concern is no one would see us up there” at Turkey Brook, but thanks to marketing by the town, “We found, at new place, regular traffic coming in. We are doing much better than what we had in the past.”
Proceeds will benefit many efforts provided by Kiwanis including sponsorship of the Key Club at Mt. Olive High School, scholarships for deserving high school students, support of the Mt. Olive Food Pantry and Caring with Bears Project.
“We’ve grown with the community to provide what the community needs,” says Moore. “When there’s a need we try to do what we can.”
With currently 14 members, Kiwanis Club of Mt. Olive is always looking for new members.
For more information on the Kiwanis Club of Mt. Olive or to volunteer at the Holiday House, contact Moore at firstname.lastname@example.org; call 201-841-7783; visit mtolivekiwanis.org.