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Merrick residents deck the streets to spread holiday cheer

Community event ‘like a Hallmark movie’

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‘Twas the week before Christmas and all through the streets, Merrick residents hustled and bustled to meet. On nearly 30 lawns throughout the neighborhood, specially themed trees adorned with ornaments stood. On Dec. 19, families smiled and gawked as they made their way through the Community Holiday Tree and Luminary Walk.

The event was organized by sisters-in-law Andrea Casano and Jennifer Casano, who live near Chatterton Elementary School. To spread some cheer amid the coronavirus pandemic, they recruited 20 of their neighbors to serve as “block captains” for the walk. Each was charged with setting up a tree on their respective street.

The captains then invited their neighbors to add ornaments and decorations to the tree, which corresponded to the block’s chosen theme, creating a miles-long walking spectacle never before seen in the community.

The idea sparked when Jennifer was talking with one of her neighbors, Sharon Loscalzo, this fall. Loscalzo walks her rescue dog, Sammy, past Jennifer’s house every day, but the two became more familiar with each other while staying home during lockdown this year.

“It’s an interesting thing: You can take the same route and see the same people over and over again . . . but you really don’t know them,” said Loscalzo, who lives on Elsie Avenue. “Since so many people were home and saw each other more often, people wanted to get to know each other.”

Loscalzo’s “spur of the moment idea” about a communal tree-decorating event provided the perfect opportunity for neighbors to meet and mingle safely. “We thought it could give families something to look forward to and end the year on a brighter note than where we were,” Jennifer said.

The organizers started by identifying an initial group of block captains; most were Chatterton families that lived between Gormley Avenue and Smith Street. “We then delivered fliers to the blocks without a captain, and got an additional 10 volunteers from that,” Jennifer said.

A total of 28 trees (located north of Sunrise Highway between Meadowbrook Road and the Bellmore town line) were featured on the walk. Andrea and Jennifer commissioned a map listing the address and name of each tree, which families used to navigate through the neighborhood. The glow of luminary candles lit the streets, as well.

“The 2020 Pandemic” was the theme of the tree on Andrea’s block. It included hand-drawn rainbows, pictures of essential workers, face mask ornaments and toilet paper trimmings. “The block captains had autonomy in picking [the theme],” she explained, “and at 4 p.m. on the day of the event, neighbors could bring over an ornament to add to their tree.”

On Jennifer’s block, Murray Place, she and her neighbors paid homage to the movies of Bill Murray. The “Very Murray Christmas” tree included slime-colored tinsel, groundhogs and gophers.

Jennifer recalled the excitement she saw on the faces of masked families as they took in the festive scene. “It felt like a Hallmark movie,” she said, “and the outpouring of love and support that came [from it] was really wonderful and heartwarming.”

“One of my friends said she moved to the suburbs to have an opportunity like this,” Andrea added.

Loscalzo called the turnout overwhelming. “I’ve been here for 40 years and I have never been so moved by an event,” she said. “People had such a positive response, made ornaments from scratch and came up with the most genius ideas.

“Sometimes,” she continued, “it’s the smallest thing that give us the biggest hope.”

For more information about the event or how to get involved for the 2021 walk, visit “Merrick Community Holiday and Luminary Walk” on Facebook.