As many Peekskill residents may already know, Santa Claus hopped on his big yellow fire truck and visited the good boys and girls of the city Sunday afternoon, handing out candy canes and teddy bears, despite the rainy weather. And, though that surely warmed the hearts of many, the story of community and holiday spirit behind the second annual Candy Cane Run is just as good.
The event’s driving force, literally, is Rob Casasanta.
A Peekskill native who still resides in the city, Casasanta volunteers with the Peekskill Fire Department and Peekskill Ambulance Corps, works as a security guard at St. Christopher’s Inn/Graymoor, provides Narcan training to members of the community and has even been known to snag a movie role here and there. But, perhaps most importantly, he owns a 1974 yellow Mack CF pumper truck that he purchased in 2012.
“It was previously used by a fire department in New Jersey—Cecil Fire Company in Williamstown,” Casasanta explained last Friday. “It was actually featured in a major motion picture, “Nonstop” with Liam Neeson. I drove it in the movie.”
Armed with the truck and a desire to bring back a Peekskill tradition that had gone dormant, last year Casasanta found a friend to play Santa Claus and a few more to be his helpers. After mapping out a route, he informed the city of his plans to hand out candy canes around the city. They had him sign a waiver and the event was well received by all, which built anticipation for this year’s run.
“It is something that should be done in the city,” he said. “It brings the kids a lot of smiles, especially in the underprivileged areas and I have been here all my life and it is something that I look forward to and the kids look forward to it.”
Joining Casasanta this year were Peekskill Office of Emergency Management members Vince Landers and John Finnigan, Peekskill Fire Department volunteers George Smith, Wayne Noles and Debbie Sniffen, Councilman Andre Rainey and Verplanck resident Danny O’Brien, who played Santa.
Others in the community supported the event as well:
• Residents donated candy canes
• The fire department wrote a check to pay for candy canes
• The Westchester County Department of Social Services building on Washington Street donated some 200 male and female Berenstain teddy bears
“I had candy canes donated, candy canes bought by the fire department because they support what I am doing, and I had a person come forward and donate all the teddy bears,” he said. “It was amazing.”
The steadfast support from the people of Peekskill was evident on social media after it appeared that Casasanta may be forced to cancel this year’s Candy Cane Run due to red tape.
Upon notifying City Clerk Pamela Beach in November that he intended to go ahead with the Candy Cane Run again in 2016, Peekskill Corporation Counsel Melissa Ferraro, looking out for the best interests of the city, expressed concern that Casasanta needed insurance for the event, which she says qualified as a parade.
“This year when he approached the city clerk back in November, he was advised that he needed to apply for a permit because under our code it is considered a parade,” Ferraro told the Peekskill City Common Council on Dec. 12. “He is required to file for a permit which requires him to provide insurance to the city and indemnify the city…”
After members of the council, most notably Mayor Frank Catalina and Councilman Vincent Vesce, voiced their support for Casasanta, any misgivings Casasanta may have had about going through with the event were put to bed.
“Once I got the mayor’s blessing and saw the support on social media, I contacted Pamela Beach and said in light of the recent changes, I am in fact going to do it,” Casasanta said. “Her response was ‘Ok, have fun, thank you.’ This is something I plan on doing every year.”
At the Dec. 19 Common Council work session, Rainey said everyone had a great time.
“It was a joyous time, everybody had fun and the kids loved it,” he said. “We also wanted to say that we appreciate Miss Melissa [Ferraro] for her help and the guys that helped out understand where you were coming from and there is no hard feelings.”