BENNINGTON — A week before Memorial Day might seem a little early to start thinking about Christmas. But the Bennington Veterans of Foreign Wars post wants local kids to get their lists ready for Santa, because they’ll have a chance to meet him long before waiting in line at the mall.
VFW Post 1332, the Post 1332 Auxiliary (family members of veterans) and their affiliate group of motorcycle riders are all planning a trip to Santa’s Land in Putney on Aug. 5, and they want as many children as possible to join them.
The trip will be the VFW’s second to the Christmas-themed family park. Last year, the organization focused on children with special needs or those that have been in need of social support services. This year, they’re hoping for a much larger haul of Santa enthusiasts, and are spreading the word early.
“Last year, we hadn’t opened it up to the public yet. We took a lot of kids from special needs programs in Bennington, and UCS,” said VFW Riders President Joe Bisson. “And we’ll definitely take them back again, absolutely, but we want to open it up to everyone this year.”
Bisson’s Riders, along with a cruiser from Bennington County Sheriff’s Department, will escort the children all the way. Post 1332 Commander Norm LeBlanc said Manchester Fire Department might add to the excitement and join the route when the Christmas convoy reaches town.
“It’s just a cool thing to do. What little kid doesn’t love motorcycles and firetrucks?” LeBlanc said.
The VFW also specifically thanked Dufour Transportation and its Bennington manager, Mike Gardner, for providing the requisite bus — or, hopefully buses — needed to get the children there.
The VFW is paying the admission fees for the children making the trip. Anyone who wants to join the fun and camaraderie on their motorcycle is asked to donate $20 (and an additional $10 for passengers), which LeBlanc said will go toward a holiday event the VFW will sponsor later this year. Last year, the funds from the Santa’s Land trip went toward buying gifts for the Sheriff’s Department’s Secret Santa day, which distributed toys to Bennington children.
LeBlanc, Bisson and VFW Riders Vice President Al Zoito all spoke glowingly of the experience last year. They're looking forward to the opportunity to make a few children's days again.
“Santa’s Land has been very receptive to it. They’ve been very good,” Bisson said. “It’s just a nice, small place, great for little kids. They had a great time.”
“Some of the children that will go on these buses are special needs children, and it just lights up the world for them to go to these places,” Zoito added.
The VFW will be holding a signup at the post, 215 South St., on a date still to be determined in mid-June, LeBlanc said. He encouraged anyone with questions about the ride before then to stop in.
“Come on down and just find out what we’re all about, and what we do for the community in general,” he said.
Registration for the ride will be the day of, at 9 a.m. at Post 1332, with “kickstands up” at 10 a.m. The caravan is expected to return at about 4 p.m., and conclude with a free cookout at Post 1332. Last year’s turnout was hampered a bit by rain, so in hopes of bolstering attendance, the VFW established a rain date of Aug. 19.