On Friday at about 6:30 am, the temperature in Brooklyn was 22 degrees; the wind made it feel like it was in the single digits, and it likely felt much colder on the backstretches of Belmont and Aqueduct. The men and women who take care of the horses had already been at work for several hours. They arrive at 4:30 am, and among their tasks is to break the ice that has formed overnight in the horses’ water buckets. It’s hard to believe that gloves and boots exist that can keep them warm as they work through the morning hours, feeding and watering and wrapping and walking.
But warm or not, they complete these tasks 365 days a year, and this past Saturday, their children got the chance to show them that though they often toil anonymously, their work is not forgotten or acknowledged.
More than 300 children came to Anna House on Saturday to choose gifts to give their family members on Christmas morning. Dozens of volunteers, from the racetrack and the community, turned out to act as the children’s personal shoppers, to wrap packages, to direct traffic, to dress up, to offer homemade baked goods to those who waited in line. Thousands and thousands of dollars of clothing, toys, home items, and jewelry were donated. And hundreds of children left with smiles on their faces, knowing that on Christmas morning, they’ll have gifts to offer their parents and siblings.
Members of the Donk, Pletcher, and McLaughlin families, who support the Belmont Child Care Association all year round in so many ways, turned out to volunteer, as did local high school students. Members of the Racetrack Chaplaincy were there all afternoon to help.
Santa was there, too, to take pictures and listen to wish lists; a thinner-than-usual Frosty high-fived and talked with children through the afternoon. By noon, dozens of families were on line to shop; by 3:00, hundreds of children had chosen gifts for their families.
It’s gotten a little warmer since last Friday, but the work is still hard, and there are plenty more of those freezing mornings ahead. Thanks to everyone who donated time, money, gifts and creativity, at least Christmas morning will be a little warmer in the homes of the backstretch workers, and the children will know that Santa will indeed be making a stop to leave presents under their tree.
The Belmont Child Care Association offers low-cost child care to the children of the backstretch workers seven days a week, 365 days a year. It opens at 5 am, so that the people who take care of the horses can work knowing that their children are in safe, educational environment. To make a donation, volunteer, or learn more, please check out the BCCA website or call 516 488 2103. Anna House is located just inside Gate 6 on the Belmont backstretch.