By Katie McFadden
“Santa looks like he’s drunk,” Joe Mure said as he gave directions to a crew of volunteers to make a giant Santa Claus statue look a little more sober. On Saturday, November 4, set up began to bring the holiday magic to The Little North Pole ahead of its big lighting ceremony on November 25.
To pull off such an extravagant display and lighting celebration takes a lot of time, sweat and laughs along the way, but with an assist from Santa’s little helpers from all across New York, it’s starting to look a lot like Christmas at Mure’s home at 144-03 Neponsit Avenue. Despite homes nearby still displaying spooky decoration for Halloween, bright and early Saturday morning, two tractor trailers full of holiday decorations and toys pulled up to the Mure home, ready for Santa’s helpers to unload them and get to work. Saturday provided a perfectly sunny fall day for dozens of volunteers from Rockaway, schools, civil service agencies and more, to come out and paint, do some heavy lifting and climb up and down ladders to make sure every light bulb is screwed in just right.
John “Johnny Lights” Sluyk has been helping Joe Mure set up for about 18 years, and for the last seven, the garage has been his specialty. Each year, Sluyk helps come up with a new theme to give the garage scene a fresh look for the season. “We have a nice theme coming up this year, a night theme,” he said. Like many, Sluyk shows up year after year to help Mure pull off the charitable endeavor.
Each year, The Little North Pole is lit for the holiday season to raise money for a very important cause. Almost every year, that cause is the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. This year will be a little different. Not only will funding go to JDRF, but funds will also help support cancer survivor Rocco Pisani’s charity and a boy named little Anthony in his fight against Williams Syndrome.
The Mure family also does special lighting events. The big show for the general public, complete with entertainment, food, and toys for every kid from Santa, will be on Saturday, November 25 at 3:30 p.m., the weekend after Thanksgiving, when families are together for the holiday. Then, that Monday, November 27, the Mures will do it all again for a group of special needs kids in the morning and then the St. Camillus Special Olympics program on Monday night. Then for the first time, that Wednesday, they’ll hold another lighting ceremony for New York City foster children, those who may not get to celebrate Christmas. It is those special reasons that many of the volunteers show up that first Saturday after Halloween to help get The Little North Pole ready.
For his sixth year, local resident Ray Otton, who helps with the St. Camillus Special Olympics program, was among the volunteers out on Saturday. “They recruited us at the Special Olympics Christmas party,” he said. “But we do this every year. Watching the kids from the Special Olympics enjoy this every year means a lot and it’s good to be a part of something that gives back to the neighborhood.”
For others, it was their first time being a part of the setup. Kenny Good, former owner of the old Beach Club, where he says Mure used to store the decor in the basement in the offseason, was volunteering with the setup for the first time after seeing a call for volunteers online. “I like to help and do the right thing for the community,” Good said. He was in the company of community activist John Cori, also there for the set up for the first time. “The weather is perfect. It’s a great day, especially the charity aspect of it. It gives back to the neighborhood and gives back to JDRF,” he said while straightening out Rudolph to Joe Mure’s specifications.
Among a group of volunteers were art students from Adelphi Academy of Brooklyn, who about 15 years ago, created the dreidels for The Little North Pole display. Each year, a group of students come to touch up the work, adding a fresh coat of paint. “Mure is a longtime supporter of the Academy, and this is a way for our students to get community service hours and to showcase their artistic abilities,” Richard Buttacavoli, Director of Academy Communications for Adelphi, said.
In between painting dreidels, the students stopped to participate in a prayer led by Reverend Michael Panicali of St. Helen Roman Catholic Church in Howard Beach. “This is a beautiful, charitable endeavor benefitting children with diabetes, and this is a very worthwhile effort with a lot of hardworking, committed people doing it every year to great result,” Rev. Panicali said. “So, if anyone can help with that, even if it’s a priest coming to pray with people, that brings out the true spirit of giving and the true spirit of Christmas.”
After the prayer, everyone from neighbors to the schoolkids, U.S. Marines to Secret Service agents and beyond got back to work to take advantage of getting things done on the beautiful day. In turn, the volunteers were treated to bagels in the morning, donated by Bagel Barista, sandwiches donated by Panino Rustico, and pizza ordered by the volunteers from Divinos and L&B Spumoni Gardens, for lunch.
To have all the help means a lot to the Mure family. “Today was a huge success,” Joe Mure said. “We got a lot accomplished. We had so many people throughout the entire Rockaway peninsula stepping up, neighbors, the Graybeards, Howard Beach, the police department, sanitation, the fire department, the Board of Ed. Everyone worked hard.”
“It’s so wonderful for the whole community to come out and be part of this magic,” Mure’s wife, Jodi Tucci said. “It’s my favorite day. The lighting itself is wonderful but to see the community come out and help put this together is incredible. We could not do it without them.”
For more information about The Little North Pole or to make a donation, check out littlenorthpole.org