All Aboard

CAROGA – As more than 150 parents and students filtered out of the Caroga Volunteer Fire Department Monday night, Fire Chief Barbara DeLuca smiled as she saw the mass of people enter their school buses for their return journey during the Firehouse Express.

“This is why we do this,” DeLuca said.

Wheelerville students braved the cold Monday night to ride buses that stopped at the town municipal building and the Fire Department to decorate a tree and see Santa Claus.

Buses shuttled more than 150 parents and students from the school to the Caroga Municipal Building in single-digit temperatures to participate in the lighting of the Christmas tree.

At the municipal building, students surrounded a roughly 4-foot “Charlie Brown” tree to hang ornaments made by elementary school students.

Gail Gillen, one of the organizers for the event, said the ornaments are bird-friendly, filled with edible seeds.

As children placed ornaments on the tree, other children ran through the snow left by the weekend’s storm.

The event was run by the Wheelerville Union Free School Parent Teacher Organization and the Fire Department.

“The Fire Department takes an active part at what goes on in the school,” DeLuca said.

From the municipal building, the buses took the children to the fire station, where they were treated to cookies, hot dogs and hot chocolate. Volunteers from the department and the PTO were on hand, handing out treats to the youths.

Eventually, Santa Claus came out and was greeted by a roar from the crowd. He took a seat in a recliner, took out a copy of “Charlie Brown’s Christmas” and read it to the audience.

Jodi Rorick and Gail Gillen, treasurer and president for the PTO, respectively, said the event was taken over from the town, which turned the event over to the PTO roughly four years ago.

The theme this year was “Charlie Brown,” Rorick said.

“We change the theme each year,” Gillen said.

Rorick and Gillen said they were excited to see the turnout for the event.

Aimee Hart, a parent, brought her two children, ages 4 and 6, to the event for the first time Monday.

“We love Caroga Lake, the people and the school,” Hart said.

Hart said they may be coming back in future years.

Hart said the main draw to these events was “the sweet people and the kindness” of the community.

Audrey O’Neal, who brought her four children to the event, said it was their second year back to the Firehouse Express.

“It is very family-orientated,” O’Neal said. “It is just fine being out with family.”

Jeannie Moller brought her grandchildren to the event.

“Caroga Lake is a great community,” Moller said.

“I love it,” she added.