April may be the cruelest month, but when Easter comes early in its four-week cycle, young egg-hunters can find late March to be an inhospitable time for outdoor fun. And so it was last Saturday afternoon, with temperatures in the 30s, a dark, lowering sky and snow flurrying down as several hundred children age 12 and under gathered on Huguenot Street for New Paltz’s 28th annual community Easter Egg Hunt.
“This was the first year we had a rain date,” observed New Paltz Youth Program director and kid-wrangler supreme Jim Tinger, who was emceeing the proceedings. “But the night before, it looked like the weather wasn’t going to be that bad, so we didn’t cancel.” Still, according to tallies added up at the end of the event, 240 children had registered, undeterred by the raw weather. Tinger said that each year, “50 or 60 of them don’t get to the registration table, because they arrive late or something.” In 2014, he added, “We had almost 400 kids. But it was 70 degrees and a sunny day.”
It wasn’t the cold or the swirling snowflakes that troubled Bella Sanchez; it was having to wait outside the taped perimeter of the area designated for seven-to-nine-year-olds while the two younger groups took their turns. “Waiting is hard,” she said, toeing the boundary line and leaning eagerly forward to scope out the brightly colored plastic eggs scattered across the lawn. She and her cousin, P. J. Costellanos, were hoping to spot a gold or silver egg that would qualify them for a bigger prize. The two eight-year-olds were already old hands at egg-hunting strategy, having come over from Dutchess County for their second hunt of the day. “We went to another one this morning in Red Hook,” reported P. J. “I got so much candy in that one.”
Eventually the Easter Bunny made his way over to the impatient group to perform the ceremony of breaching the tape to let the kids pounce on their treasures. “Everybody ready?” asked Tinger through a bullhorn. “Three, two, one — go!” Dozens of small bodies went flying, scooping up eggs into their bags and pails in a mad flurry that lasted no more than a few minutes. Then the kids returned to their families to examine their booty, twisting open each egg to find the prize inside: a piece of candy, a sticker or temporary tattoo, a small plastic toy. A precious few eggs contained slips of paper entitling the bearer to claim a prize basket back at Egg Hunt headquarters at the DuBois Fort.
“I found ten eggs!” reported eight-year-old Benjamin Gabriels of New Paltz. Asked whether the Easter Bunny also would bring eggs to his house, Benjamin and his five-year-old sister Gracie explained that they color real Easter eggs together as a family project, but that the Easter Bunny brings baskets of candy and also leaves plastic eggs around the house for them to find. “He fills them up and then he hides them. I found one on the toilet once,” said Benjamin. “He puts them on the stairs,” Gracie added, “and there was some on the TV.”
Once the oldest group of kids had taken their turn, Youth Program staff, interns and volunteers quickly began breakdown and cleanup while families clustered around the guest of honor, waiting their turns to take selfies with the Easter Bunny. Asked how he managed to attend so many egg hunts in the same day, Mr. Bunny — who had made his grand entrance at noon, disembarking from a fire engine — replied, “Rabbits are very fast creatures. It usually only takes me a day or two to hide the eggs.” Don’t tell the kids, but inside that fuzzy suit was New Paltz High School student Ian McAllister, a regular patron of the Youth Center who had volunteered to help out for the day.
Each age group of kids in their turn traipsed back to the Fort to claim prizes donated by Rite-Aid and ShopRite, recycle their opened eggs, refresh themselves with hot cocoa or chips, jump around in the bouncy house, do some coloring or get their faces painted. Soap bubbles spewed into the air from a bubble machine being minded by Youth Program intern Kendra Dzingle, a senior at SUNY New Paltz. “I was doing the one-to-three-year-olds’ corral,” she said.
At the prize table, five-year-old Jaidyn Oakley of New Paltz traded in his special “football egg” for an Easter basket nearly as big as he was, filled with SpongeBob-themed backyard toys. He was one of the last to make his claim, but there were still a few extra prizes left over — a useful contingency that helps pacify children who are upset that they didn’t manage to find any eggs at all, according to Tinger. “We had one kid who found a silver egg, and another kid grabbed it out of his basket — not being mean; he was just a four-year-old.” So a substitute prize was found and everyone went home happy.
According to Kelly Jackson of Wappingers, assistant director of the New Paltz Youth Program, about 20 volunteers turn out to help set up, run the event and break down. In addition, the egg hunt receives support from the New Paltz Police and Fire Departments and hosts Historic Huguenot Street. Attendees are mostly local families, Jackson said: “I would say that most of the kids are from the New Paltz School District. A lot of our publicity is by word-of-mouth.”
Winners of the top egg prizes were as follows: Ages one to three: Emily Almodoval, gold; Jolie Davis, silver. Ages four to six: Bobby Ezell, gold; Elizabeth Mitain, silver. Ages seven to nine: Henry Wheeler, gold; Kristie Benel, silver. Ages ten to 12: Max Reinking, gold; Riley Adams, silver. Heather Petrollese was the winner of the 50/50 raffle.
As the fun was winding down, Jim Tinger finally got a chance to catch his breath and proclaimed the day a success, in spite of March going out like a lion. “This has always been a great community event,” he said. “Although we’re a teen program, this is the one thing we do for younger kids.”