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Oceanside residents to spread holiday cheer with 'Elf Tag'

Event will surprise two local families

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Elves are coming to Oceanside this Sunday, on a mission to spread holiday cheer to local families who need it.

No, not actual elves, but community members who signed up for the annual “Elf Tag” event, who will dress up in hats, lights and other festive wear. Then the group will make surprise visits to two homes and greet families facing hard times with Christmas carols, gifts, cards and a letter about why they were chosen.

“Kids love it,” said Elf Tag organizer Jessica Andriano. “They love walking up to the door and surprising the families. And it’s such an amazing thing to bring to people when they’re in a really dark place.”

One December evening in 2016, for example, John Fellin, a longtime Oceanside resident and a volunteer at St. Anthony’s Parish, was sitting at his dinner table with his family. His son had told him to be home by 6 p.m.

So, there he was. Fellin had just opened a business, and his wife was undergoing chemotherapy for leukemia. “It was a difficult, sad time for my family,” Fellin recalled.

His son kept checking his watch. Then, all of a sudden, Fellin heard noises — people — outside. When he and his wife opened the door, about 150 Oceansiders were gathered on his lawn and the street outside.

“It blew us away,” Fellin said. “I still get emotional thinking about it.”

There were children and adults, dressed in costumes and singing holiday tunes. They brought gifts, but Fellin didn’t accept them, and they were donated to those in financial need. He did, however, accept the letters children wrote, thanking him for his work in the community.

“There are hundreds of people out there to say, ‘We know you’re having a rough time this season,’” said Elf Tag founder and organizer Laura Conroy. “‘The Oceanside community loves you and supports you.’”

Conroy began Elf Tag in 2012 as an activity for children in the St. Anthony’s Bridges youth group program to participate in around the holidays. Since then, the event has touched dozens of local families, including late NYPD Detective Lou Alvarez’s family a few years ago when he was first diagnosed with the 9/11-related cancer that he succumbed to in June. “I love watching everyone getting together and doing good things,” Conroy said. “It’s really so much fun.”

Last year, Conroy left the Bridges program and couldn’t find a successor. Andriano didn’t want Elf Tag to end. So she, Conroy and Terri Ann Mallozzi now comprise a stand-alone Elf Tag committee and have kept the event alive.

Children who participate can get credit for community service hours for religious school, Boy or Girl Scouts or a club. However, many teenagers who participate do it simply because they like the warm feeling they get making a family’s day.

The chosen families do not need to be connected to the parish, Andriano said. They are nominated usually because a family member is recently sick or deceased.

In the past, organizers recruited children to participate through St. Anthony’s programs. Parents must accompany the children. This year, the Elf Tag committee opened the event to the community. The response was “overwhelming,” Andriano said.

“We had to close the sign-up,” she said. “Saying no was very hard. We can’t believe how fast it went.”

“The people who do it get more out of it than the recipients,” Conroy noted, though he was very likely mistaken. 

“It’s really about the kids giving back,” Andriano added. “This year, with the entire community . . . it’s going to be amazing.”