Little Kristen Bend’s face glowed as she stared at the Disney Splash 'n Bubble Treehouse Pooh Bath Toy she gripped in her 4-year-old hands.
“I can’t wait to see my cousin with this,” she said.
“I can’t wait either,” said her brother, Quentin, who was holding this year’s Hess truck.
Santa Claus beamed at the children as he waited to give out another toy at Big Al’s Family Fitness Friday.
Paul Riedel, owner of the Amityville gym, dressed up as Kris Kringle and invited children from the Andpress Plaza apartment complex to celebrate Christmas.
“We always try to do something,” said Nathan Jackson, a long-time employee at the gym. “We’re hoping to open some eyes and help them [the children] see something they wouldn’t ordinarily see.”
The Christmas Eve event started out as a regular holiday party several years ago when the gym was opened by Riedel and business partner Alex Algeri. Riedel said he and Algeri would don Santa suits to bring Christmas to their own children, but that ended when Algeri was murdered in 2001. After that, Riedel renamed the gym Big Al’s and began holding a toy drive every year, collecting from gym members for the John Theissen Children’s Foundation.
This year he combined the two, holding a Christmas party on Dec. 17 for members, charging one toy each for admission and then giving the toys to the children from Andpress Plaza. Extra toys from Friday’s event will be sent to the JTCF.
“Did you see those kids’ faces? It was great,” Riedel said, smiling. “I come from a home where it was difficult. As a kid, you look at a friend who has something and you wish you could be him just for 10 minutes. Now these kids can be.”