Walnut Street Elementary School was the first stop this year for the seventh annual Holiday Toy Parade, sponsored by the Nassau County Police Department Foundation.
Bright and early on a chilly Saturday morning, hundreds of children gathered at the school with their parents. Blue-jacketed members of the Nassau County Police Explorers — a program for young people between 13 and 21 that introduces them to law enforcement work — helped the crowd to stay behind the yellow police tape that stretched from the school’s entrance down the long block to the end of the sidewalk.
The toy giveaway is “one among many community-based programs that bring police together with the community they serve to build communication and generate sound relationships,” according to the foundation’s website.
“I’ve been a commissioner for seven years, and I’ve been doing this for seven years,” said Nassau County Police Department commissioner Patrick Ryder. “And every year, it gets better and bigger, and just more enjoyable for the kids and the community.”
Ryder acted as the giveaway’s ambassador. His car arrived first in the parade, which included motorcycle police, two statuesque mounted police officers, patrol cars, volunteer vehicles, the truck full of business partners handing the toys out to the crowd, and Uniondale Fire Department trucks.
“Make some noise,” Ryder shouted to the crowd. “Santa’s coming around the corner with lots of gifts!”
As the children and families crowded around the truck, Ryder circulated among them, handing out gifts and squatting down to slap high-fives with smiling little scholars.
“It’s an amazing way to engage the families and keep the connection going in a positive way,” said Quyen Rovner, the Walnut Street school social worker.
Rovner was on the team that identified a thousand of the district’s neediest children, signing them up for the giveaway. PTA parent and Kiwanis member Janet Weekes was the event’s main organizer, aided by Walnut Street administrator Marina Philippe, and supported by Principal Kevin Bracht, school board trustee Addie Blanco-Harvey, and others.
NCPD Foundation executive director Alexandra Nigolian organized the donation of toys from a large cluster of businesses and organizations. She also reached out to partner with community institutions like the Hofstra University Dance Team, and Kohl’s Cares, a charitable organization of Kohl’s department store.
“It’s my sixth year,” said Kohl’s Cares volunteer Ellen Needrith. “First time as a reindeer.”
She was smiling from the hood of a reindeer costume, greeting children and helping hand out toys.
Uniondale Fire Department chief Jessica Ellerbe said her trucks functioned as both a community outreach and a reassuring protective presence.
“Anytime the Nassau County Police Department does something here, they incorporate us,” she said. “And when we do something, we incorporate the police department. So we work together.”