NEWPORT CITY – Over a 100 families with young children had a chance to put the trials and tribulations of everyday life aside for a few hours Saturday and enjoy a real hometown Christmas, thanks primarily to Newport City native and Burlington real estate developer Tony Pomerleau. The dinner was for families who may not have had the Christmas they’d like to have.
Pomerleau, a very modest man and with the exception of paying for the shindig, credits Andy Cappello, director of the Newport City Recreation Department; Trish Sears, executive director of the Newport City Renaissance Corporation; and the other volunteers such as members of the Newport City Council and Newport Rotary Club.
At the opening of the festivities, Father Michael Reardon led the benediction.
In addition to the dinner, gifts, entertainment and fun projects, each family received a $20 gift card to the Vista Supermarket and each child received a pass to the Jay Peak Water Park. Todd Willington, the “King of Silly,” entertained the families and Don Whipple took their photos with Santa.
Since Nov. 26, Pomerleau has fed more than 2,000 people; this includes 1,200 members of the Vermont National Guard and their families. Pomerleau, during a brief speech, thanked everyone and promised to return next year.
Saturday’s event started with the children making Christmas ornaments and then a complete meal with just about everything imaginable. Later, youngsters and their families went to a movie at the Waterfront Cinema. The day concluded with Newport City's “Magic on Main,” where children had an opportunity to play games, enjoy goodies, take a wagon ride, participate in different activities and visit with Santa and his reindeer.
Numerous public service organizations invited the families to Pomerleau's private party. This year’s attendance just about matched last year’s. In past years, Pomerleau and others involved with the dinner indicated their desire to invite even more families, but they have yet been able to find a venue large enough to sit everyone.
Steve Mayo, from the Newport Recreation Department, was one of the many volunteers who helped out Saturday. He explained that some families are having difficulties, especially during the current economically troubling times.
Numerous high school students also helped throughout the day. Mackenzie Steele, a member North Country Career Center’s Early Education Class, said she enjoys working with youngsters and thought volunteering at the dinner was a good thing to do over Christmas.
“Every child deserves a good Christmas,” said Steele’s friend, Michaela Jokinen. “They can experience a good meal, they get a present from Santa and they get to meet Santa.”
Newport Rotarian and former teacher Roger Cartee, who has volunteered for many years, said, “It gives you a warm feeling. You talk to students – that it’s better to give than receive. It’s like a Christmas gift multiplied many times over when you see the looks on the face of the kids. It’s just a joy to me.”
Debbie Lathe attended the dinner with her children. She said the children had a chance to visit with Santa and she got out of the house and visited with friends and family.
Brandie Lamounda, who attended with her children, said the dinner is important and it brings people together.
“You never know what’s going to happen tomorrow,” said Lamounda.