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How Santa Claus makes a difference

Al and Maria Frangipane of Kauneonga Lake, NY look forward all year to playing Mr. and Mrs. Claus at Christmastime for many of the children in Sullivan County.
Contributed photo

December 19, 2012

KAUNEONGA LAKE, NY — When Al Frangipane puts on his red Santa suit and goes to meet a bunch of children, he is transformed. “When I walk into that room, I’m Santa,” he said, “I’m not Al Frangipane. For an hour to two, I’m only Santa.” Ho, ho, ho!

“One of the biggest thrills,” Santa Frangipane recalled recently, “is the day we do CASA.” That’s the day Sullivan County’s Court-Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) put on a party for the court system’s foster children. They come to see Santa Claus, sit on his knee and share their wish lists with him. At the annual CASA party, Frangipane may have as many as 100 to 150 children line up to tell Santa what they want for Christmas.

“It’s really a festive day,” he explained, “and it’s an experience those children wouldn’t ordinarily have.” Each child also has a chance to have a photograph taken with Santa and gets to take home a gift.

Santa’s rounds in Sullivan County include more than the annual CASA party, which was last Saturday at the restaurant Mr. Willy’s in Monticello, courtesy of Bill Sipos.This year, Santa Frangipane suited up for a big bash at Bethel Woods in the Events Gallery, an event at the Smallwood firehouse and a visit to another party put on by the Police Benevolent Association in Monticello.

Santa almost never travels alone. “My wife, Maria, is my Mrs. Claus,” Frangipane said. “She does my makeup.” And along with the help of elf, a.k.a. Shelly Knepper, who’s indispensable, she talks to the children and helps to warm up the crowd for Santa’s big entrance.

“I remember one time at Bethel Woods (it may have been the first year we did that),” he recalled, “the choir was there singing, people were standing around, and I saw a family standing by the gift shop. Their little girl (she was probably around four) saw me, too. Her eyes got as big as saucers. So, I got down on one knee and I waved to her to come over. Well, she ran so fast and she jumped in my lap, she almost knocked me over,” he laughed as he remembered the story.

Sometimes a child will take a tug on Santa’s beard, and more often than you’d think a child will say, “But, Santa, you’re supposed to know my name.” (Frangipane replies that he sees so many children he just needs a little reminder.)