Thousands Tour Toyland For The Holidays

Emily Beelel, left, portrays “Frozen’s” Elsa while Gianna Vollaro a fellow Jackson Memorial High School student plans Anna from the Disney film during the annual Toyland event. (Photo By Bob Vosseller)

  JACKSON – Superheroes, characters from the Disney film “Frozen,” giant toy soldiers and the usual Christmas cast of Santa, Mrs. Claus, Frosty, elves and Rudolph the red-nosed-reindeer all reassembled along with staff members and senior volunteers for some fun in Toyland.

  Toyland opened at the Melvin Cottrell Center for Senior Citizens and the Disabled at 45 Don Conner Blvd.

  For more than 20 years the center has been transformed into multiple holiday themed rooms featuring costumed characters, a train room, and a gift shop area that featured multiple costumes for the free teddy bears provided to children.

Teddy Bears are always part of a tour of Toyland. (Photo By Bob Vosseller)

  Around 2,000 visitors toured Toyland which was made possible through a cooperative effort between the Salvation Army, senior center staff and around 100 volunteers including students from Jackson Memorial High School, Jackson Liberty High School and senior citizens.

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  Salvation Army Field Representative Esther Leon once again brought members of her family to be a part of the event including her husband Arturo and children Jeanelise DeJesus, Josiah DeJesus and Jaslere DeJesus. “We’ve been involved with this for over 20 years and it is wonderful to see the seniors who make the teddy bear outfits and so many wonderful things that go on during the event. It brings out so many families.”

  The Fellmanns were one such family. Carla and Frank Fellmann came with their kids Abbie, 9 and Nathan, 8. “This is our second year for this,” Carla Fellmann said.

  “I really enjoy the teddy bears,” Abbie said. Her brother said, “I like the cookies, Santa and the bears.”

  Senior Center Director Kate Slisky said, “We had a few small changes this year. We added a superhero backdrop of Gotham City that was made by our talented recreation director Kristine Jackson.

  “We started working on this on Thanksgiving week and on Monday we start to break it down,” Slisky said. “We really appreciate the hard work that Department of Public Works employees Mark Herrick, Steve Clark and Chet Smilik – who handles all the electrical work – do to make this all happen. We also appreciate our senior volunteers who help us with the concession stand and the Snowflake Gift Shop where visitors can shop for a variety of holiday items.”

  Slisky said that the Salvation Army has been very supportive of the center and that they provided 2,000 free Teddy Bears that the children receive when they come through Toyland. We also give the children a cookie and juice when they come through the door and visit our rooms.”

  “Our senior volunteers have been working for months knitting and crocheting hats, sweaters and outfits for the bears that can be purchased and the proceeds for them and bears that can be purchased is donated to the Salvation Army,” she said.

Volunteers and Jackson Senior Center staff gather in the gift shop area of Toyland. (Photo By Bob Vosseller)

  Slisky said the mailbox area in Toyland is used to collect letters to Santa that are given to patients at the rehab for the holidays.”

  “We had 50 volunteers, 25 from each high school come out and 10 senior volunteers. The students wore the costumes and provided face painting and did crafts with the children,” Slisky said.

  The train room featured two train sets laid out in a massive winter mountain display.

  Jackson Memorial High School art teacher Matt Albert helped make sure Kris Kringle got to the center from the North Pole noting that he’d been involved with the project with students for many years. Theresa Lagotti helped Mrs. Claus get there for the weekend.

Jackson Memorial High School students Cameron Vallare is Superman, joining Rebecca Pomponio as Elastigirl and Jonathan Bartley as Batman during Toyland. (Photo By Bob Vosseller)

  Jackson Memorial High School student Alyssa Villalya was a shining star at the event. Her role this year was to play a star and she stood next to a Christmas tree in the train room. “I’ve been a star before and I’ve been involved in this for a few years now,” she said.

  Jackson resident Mariel Mathiesen is a college student who volunteered for her first time not knowing what her duties would be. She got to play Rudolph. “I used to bring my niece to this event every year. Now I’m a part of it.”