A Backstretch Christmas at Belmont

Gunnery Sergeant Steven Covington with an Anna House volunteer and a little shopper

On Saturday morning, the immense stillness of Belmont Park in December echoed with sounds of happy children. Having outgrown its usual home at Anna House, the ninth Belmont Child Care Association holiday party took over the Belmont Café, on the ground floor of the clubhouse, so that the children of the backstretch workers could select gifts to give to their families for Christmas.

From late morning until late afternoon, hundreds of children made their way among the donated toys, clothing, jewelery and gift cards, accompanied by volunteer elves as they thoughtfully picked out gifts, then brought them to an army of volunteers for wrapping and labeling.

As always, members of the racing community turned out to help:  Michael Dubb, leading owner at the recent Belmont meet and chairman of the BCCA board, spent several hours visiting and helping; Tracy Pletcher and her three children wrapped presents and escorted children, as did Letty McLaughlin and her son Ryan.  Leona Velazquez, wife of jockey John, came with their daughter Lerina and helped dozens of children select gifts.

Edgar Prado stopped by before heading to Aqueduct to ride; he finished second, just a head short, aboard Stormy’s Majesty in the Grade 3 Queen’s County. Fay Donk, wife of trainer David and BCCA board president, was there all day with her son Paul, shepherding children and families through the doors and among the gift options.

The New York Racing Association provided the expanded space for the event, which would in 24 hours be transformed from holiday party venue to off-track wagering room; thanks to them for giving up the space on what would have been a valuable Saturday of betting.

Major Chuck Kilbride, US Marine Corps, retired, with Edgar Prado and Elmont legislator John Ciotti

Many of the donated toys came from the Marine Corps’s Toys for Tots drive, and some of the Marines came out to see the children’s eyes widen at the array of toys available to them; John Ciotti, county legislator for Elmont in the third legislative district, came to watch and talk to constituents.

According to the BCCA, nearly four hundred children made their way through the holiday “store”; dozens of volunteers from the track, the community, the BCCA board, and the Anna House classrooms made the shopping and wrapping smooth,  efficient, and fun.

NY1 came out to cover the event; you can see the video clip of their story here (no embedding, unfortunately). We here at the Backstretch particularly like this, because Mama Backstretch makes an uncredited appearance.

This annual event, which mean so much to the children and their families, couldn’t happen without the indefatigable efforts of dozen of people, and without the generous donations of many, many more.  Thanks to all of them, and to you, dear readers, for contributing. I wish that you could have been there to see the children’s faces, and to see what happiness your generosity has wrought.  Because of you, hundreds of backstretch families will have a much merrier Christmas.

A public Facebook photo album of the event is here; you don’t need to have a Facebook account to see it.

4 thoughts on “A Backstretch Christmas at Belmont

  1. That was great for the kids, for whom I’m sure it’s enjoyable. I didn’t realize the enormity of this, and it’s obvious a place like the Belmont Cafe was needed to house the event, which if anything probably got more publicity than it would have otherwise because of the New York City OTB closing and the fact it essentially became an OTB itself the next day.

  2. Thanks for the comments, and yes, it’s a terrific event. People’s generosity, with both time and money, is just overwhelming, and Donna Chenkin does a great job getting the word out about the event.

    Might get to a Mack Miller post, August – He was retired by the time I started following racing seriously, but truly, one whose story deserves telling over and over.

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