By Benjamin Joe
Music brings all sorts of people together. That’s what the organizers of “Rockin’ with Santa” have been doubling down on for the last 20 years in their annual toy-drive event occurring just in time for the holidays.
With the only cover being an unwrapped present for kids 16 and under, the “Rockin’ with Santa” event, featuring the band 55 Main, will be held at the Elks Lodge at 55 Main St., Tonawanda, at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 7. It will include raffles, a 50/50 split and a cash bar, as well as food.
“It’s our last big effort to generate additional toys for the needy families in the Twin Cities, just in the area here,” said John White, one of the organizers of the event. “We do it through music, that’s why we call it ‘Rockin’ with Santa.’ We have a couple live bands. We have Tom Hastings playing acoustic music, first, for a couple hours between 6:30 and 8:30, and from 9 to 12, we have 55 Main play. They’re a great local rock ‘n’ roll band.
“To come in, it’s an unwrapped gift. Just bring an unwrapped gift for a child between 0-16, and you come in and listen to music all night for nothing.”
The gift distribution date is set for Dec. 15, and families who qualify through the St. Francis Outreach Program, St. Mark’s, Headstart in the Tonawandas and the YWCA will be invited to receive the gifts that music lovers have gave for them. White said his part is to get as many gifts as possible.
“We don’t generate the families ourselves,” White said. “We give it out to everybody and have them vet the families for us. … Because they’ll do a better job. The YWCA know their needy families and they pick them. They had about 25 this year. St. Francis might have had 50 this year. I’m throwing numbers at you, but it comes out to about 150 families who will be given cards and are invited by those cards (to the distribution).”
The “Rockin’ with Santa” toy drive isn’t just a one-night event. Toys have been collected at several locations, including Dollar General, Dockside, Tonawanda City Hall, Squires Tap Room, Fast Teddy’s 2, North Tonawanda City Hall, Evans Bank, TC Wheelers, Wurlitzer Pizza, the Royal Restaurant, Elks Lodge, Chamber of Commerce and, most recently, Crazy Jakes.
White identified himself as a member of the Elks, an organization that donated the hall for both the “Rockin’ with Santa” and the distribution pick-up a week later.
“They donated the hall for nothing. We bring in the toys next Saturday and divide them by age groups,” he said. “If you ever want to see something, it’s unbelievable. You walk in that room. It’s just amazing to see all the toys on the table – about three, four feet up, all around the room. The rest of the room is filled; hats, gloves, stocking stuffers, anything. Plastic sleds, toboggans.”
White said three toys are given for each child and, before they leave, volunteers wrap the gifts for them.
He said, “This way, they don’t have to worry about it; sweat about ‘What we’re going to do! We don’t have anything for the kids!’ They can just enjoy (the holidays).
“You don’t realize that kids, families next door, families behind you are hurting. They’re very proud. We’re not going to take pictures; we’re not going to name names – we don’t need names, we do them by numbers. It works out very well for us and for them, too.”
55 Main plays a variety of Top 40 rock ‘n’ roll hits and has known White for some time. White said there have been quite a few bands who’ve helped out, several who’ve helped for free.
“You’d be surprised the musicians who are willing to give their talents for nothing,” he said. “Just to help out.”