Anna Docimo may have given up the gavel and center seat on the dais at the West Deptford municipal building when she retired a mayor just over a week ago, but there was one thing she was hanging on to at least a little bit longer.
Her Santa suit.
Docimo made one last ride in her sleigh–an SUV packed to the roof with turkeys and hams–Thursday morning to distribute food and gifts, more than $16,000 worth, all donated by residents and local companies, from the ninth annual Mayor's Holiday Toy and Food Drive.
For Docimo, it was another chance to reach out and touch the lives of locals–46 families and 21 senior citizens this year–and hopefully bring a few smiles ahead of Christmas.
“It feels good every year, it never changes,” she said. “It's sad, too–people are out of work, it's tough times.”
As the SUV and DeHart-donated bus, which held toys and bikes and other gifts, rolled through Willow Woods, Docimo's white-gloved hand waved out the window to a handful of residents walking the narrow streets.
Brian Kitchen almost couldn't believe it when Docimo pressed a stack of gift cards into his hand and hugged him tight.
Standing in the small yard beside his mobile home, Kitchen, who has three kids of his own and three stepchildren, was overwhelmed at the generosity and what it means to his family.
“I wasn't expecting all this at all,” he said. “It's awesome, actually–I can get them more than I thought I could.”
Docimo said she's seen many of the faces along the route more than once over the years, whether seniors or families, but said there were a number of new people needing help this year.
One of those was Michael Hardy, who spent 25 years working at the Sony plant in Pitman before getting cut in the first round of layoffs a year and a half ago.
“This is the first year i've had to use any resources,” he said. “There's a lot of good people out here; everybody's kind and everybody's willing to help.”
Hardy said it's been difficult, but he's heading to Camden County College to get training in solar panel installation–“Everyone's going green,” he said–and hopes that's his path back to full-time work.
“I just didn't think it would be this hard for me to get a job,” he said.
Giving that hand up at the holidays to help in those lean times is exactly what the drive is meant to do, Docimo said.
“We're able to touch just a little bit,” she said.
Now that Docimo has retired, the fate of the annual program is somewhat up in the air. Republican committeeman-elect Sam Cianfarini said the new Republican majority that will lead the committee hasn't discussed it, but they aren't opposed to carry it on next year.
“Personally, if it was touching a lot of families and kids with that effort, then I'd certainly want to strive to continue it,” he said.
One of the key things in doing so would be to get a handle on the practical side, Cianfarini said, which he plans to do by reaching out to Docimo.
For her part, Docimo said she's more than willing to lend a hand to keep the program, which she sees as part of her legacy, running well into the future.
“I'd volunteer to do it every year if they wanted me to,” she said. “The tradition will hopefully still go on.”