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Holiday cheer with heart at Fifth Annual Lower East Side SantaLand 

BY KATY MORRIS | While this holiday season is different — and perhaps difficult for many — the compassion and love of the season are in full force in the Lower East Side. Last Saturday, the P.S. 34 outdoor playground was transformed into a heart-warming SantaLand for low-income families to partake in a COVID-friendly day of Christmas magic complete with sweet treats, presents and, of course, Santa.

Driving the sleigh of the event was community leader, activist and advocate Lilah Mejia, who has organized and run the annual LES SantaLand for the last four years.

Presents at LES SantaLand. (Photo by Destiny Mata)

“One of the reasons why SantaLand was created was to provide Macy’s Winter Wonderland for low-income families,” Mejia said. “This year has been tough on so many of us due to COVID-19 — more and more families are losing jobs, children learning remotely — so now more than ever, it’s important we take care of our community. We wanted to bring smiles to children’s faces, and that’s what we did.”

Here comes Santa! (Photo by Destiny Mata)
Santa with a young Lower East Sider. (Photo by Destiny Mata)

This year she joined forces with community leaders Power Malu, TC Rosario and Camille Napoleon and called on local businesses, community groups, elected officials and, of course, Santa, to bring some holiday joy to the LES.

“We asked Santa Claus to come, we got presents, we got food, we got ice cream, jackets, scarves and we came to the community and the school that needed it most,” Mejia said. “We were honored to partner with P.S. 34 families and all these community activist organizations to make SantaLand happen.”

Assemblymember Harvey Epstein, front row, center, along with Councilmember Carlina Rivera, back row, second from left,  and District Leader John Blasco, back row, second from right, attended LES SantaLand. (Photo by Destiny Mata)

Along with 30 volunteer “Santa’s Helpers,” the school’s staff and P.T.A. and NYCSigma, Mejia and team distributed some 300 boxes of food provided by Vision Urbana and individually wrapped gifts to more than 400 families throughout the day.

From left, Lilah Mejia with co-District Leaders John Blasco and Aura Olavarria. (Photo by Destiny Mata)
Lilah Mejia spreading holiday cheer and love at LES SantaLand. (Photo by Destiny Mata)

The event was truly a community effort with the support of United Healthcare, Assemblymember Harvey Epstein, Councilmember Carlina Rivera, Vision Urbana Food Pantry, Roost and Murphy’s Cafe, First Choice Barbershop, District Leaders Daisy Paez, John Blasco and Aura Olavarria and Mikey Likes It Ice Cream.

There was no shortage of Santa’s Helpers. (Photo by Destiny Mata)
Helping make the Fifth Annual SantaLand a success. (Photo by Destiny Mata)

“This is the kind of work we are able to do in our communities when we all come together to share resources and help out however and whenever we can,” said co-organizer Power Malu. “This is an ongoing community initiative that wouldn’t be possible without everyone stepping up to contribute.”

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