Saturday, December 10 provided brisk-but-clear weather for the third annual iteration of Holiday Hoopla, a free winter carnival sponsored by the Town of New Paltz and the Ulster Prevention Council. The brainchild of Phoenix Kawamoto, director of the Town’s Office for Community Wellness, and Jim Tinger, director of the New Paltz Youth Program (NPYP), Holiday Hoopla was first conceived as a socially distanced way to help the community celebrate the arrival of the Yuletide holidays during the first year of the COVID pandemic.
It began as a parade of firetrucks and other vehicles that made a circuit of New Paltz neighborhoods, playing seasonal music and laden with young volunteers dubbed the Candy Cane Crew. Its name arose out of the featured entertainment: Hula Hoopers for Humanity, who pranced and twirled at each of the stops on the parade route. Riding along and waving to onlookers were Buddy the Bear (Kawamoto in a full-body polar bear costume) and Santa Claus himself (Tinger, bearded and padded).
This year, things were very different, with a crowd gathered face-to-face in a festive mood at Hasbrouck Park, after the line of march followed the traditional parade route from the New Paltz Middle School down Main Street and up Plattekill Avenue. The parade itself has become more elaborate, featuring live horses courtesy of John Fazio and Black Crow Mustangs and some racing cars wrangled by Calvin Halstead of the New Paltz Police Department with help from Absolutely Automotive, Nicky D’s, Tom’s Repair Shop and Beck’s Hardware.
“The first year was just reaching out to people,” noted Kawamoto, a major part of whose mission is to support mental health and prevent substance abuse by providing fun, alcohol-free alternative activities for youth – especially during the holidays, with such family-friendly celebrations as New Paltz Eve. “It’s just wonderful to actually be together with people.”
Live music at the park was supplied by the David Chapman Band, students from the New Paltz Middle School Band, the Resisterhood Choir and the Master’s Touch Choir, ending up with a karaoke session. In between, DJ Jay Smooth, C. J. McIntyre and The Wolf Radio kept the danceable sounds going, and small children by the dozens flocked to try their hips at hula-hooping in time to the music.
A variety of community service organizations had booths set up, offering information and activities for kids. Three young volunteers, eighth-grader Brianna Whyte and ninth-graders Dahlia Haselton and Iliana Melissis, sat at a table painting little faces for free, with Spider-Man the most-requested design of the day.
At the pavilion at the western end of the park, Santa was kept very busy posing with children for family photos and fist-bumps. “It’s been a steady flow,” said Tinger. “We must’ve taken a couple of hundred pictures.” Nearby, a bouncy house provided by NPYP kept energetic little ones moving. Anyone who felt chilled could head down to St. Joseph’s Church, which served as the official warming station, supplying hot cocoa, coffee and tea, plus live performances from a magician.
For the hungry, three food trucks were lined up at the park: Mark’s Dogs, the Delicious Mexican Food taco truck and Forget Me Not Cupcakes. The latter is run out of a renovated schoolbus by Pat Roza, a Milton resident who has a mission of her own that aligns well with that of the event organizers: Since retiring in 2010 from a 26-year career as activities director at a nursing home, she has been selling gourmet cupcakes to raise money for organizations like the Council on Addiction Prevention and Education.
“I lost my son Christopher in 2007 to substance use disorder. I wanted a way to give back to the community,” Roza explained. “I couldn’t save my own son, but now I can help other people and direct them to the help they need.” She donates a portion of her profits from cupcake sales to help match young adults with recovery coaches and direct them to rehabilitation facilities. “I met with four of them a couple of months ago at a candlelight vigil. They’re clean and sober now. We all keep in touch.”
In the process, Roza has honed her baking skills to a level where she won K104’s Cupcake Wars contest in 2013, and went on to become a judge in subsequent years. Her most popular cupcake of that chilly day at Holiday Hoopla? “Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup,” she said. “It’s drizzled with hot fudge.” Sounds like a sweet, warming way to top off a fun, heartwarming day.