Santa Claus, escorted by the Bel Air Volunteer Fire Company, doled out Christmas cheer in the Major’s Choice community Saturday afternoon.
But the fire company members themselves received unexpected gifts as well from several neighborhood families working to spread kindness during the holiday season.
Fire engine driver Bob Krall was surprised as Megan Greco, her children Victoria and Michael Jr., and friend Patricia Russell, handed him homemade brownies, a tote bag, chocolate-covered pretzels and cookies.
The gifts were the latest gesture that are part of the Greco family’s second annual 25 Days of Christmas Kindness, an effort to reach out to the community during the holiday season.
Victoria Greco, 8, a second-grader at Bel Air Elementary School, said she “felt really special” giving gifts to the firefighters — and hoped the feeling was mutual. “If I was that fire person I would feel really special inside,” she said.
The Greco family started 25 Days of Christmas Kindness last year, born out of family discussions after Thanksgiving about “how cold people appear to be lately,” Megan Greco recalled. She her husband Michael, both 41, wanted to reiterate to their children “the importance of being good, kind human beings.”
They began making a list of things they could to for others, which grew into a schedule of daily acts of kindness. This year, the family is encouraging others in Harford County to get involved as well and document their acts on social media. The year’s campaign started Dec. 1 and is scheduled through Christmas Eve.
“It’s a fantastic idea,” said friend and fellow Major’s Choice resident Tracey Hankins, who with her 12-year-old daughter, Regan, made the chocolate-covered pretzels for the fire personnel.
“There’s not enough kindness today in this world,” Hankins said. “Somebody has to be nice, and it starts at home.”
Hankins said regardless of what her daughter accomplishes in life, she wants her to “grow up to be kind and polite and have respect for other people.”
Hankins, her daughter, her husband Jeff and her sister joined Russell, the Grecos and other neighbors on Trout Dale Terrace Saturday as they waited — with temperatures in the 20s — for Santa.
The Grecos provided the tote bag and brownies and Russell provided the cookies. The goodies had been prepared so the fire company members could bring them back to the firehouse “and share with others and enjoy, hopefully,” Megan Greco said. The Greco and Hankins family later gathered at the Greco house for food and drinks, games and conversation.
“I really love helping people,” said Regan Hankins, who is in the sixth grade at Southampton Middle School. She stressed the importance of being kind to everyone — following the concept of treating people as you would want to be treated.
“I try to be kind to others so they will be kind to me,” she said.
Some of the Greco’s acts in 2018 have included paying for patrons’ shopping carts at the Aldi supermarket in Bel Air; giving holiday treats to local police officers; directing people to make online donations to give veterans free meals; and sending a birthday card to a World War II veteran in California.
Upcoming events include a Dec. 14 collection of items for pediatric cancer patients at The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. The Grecos hope to collect toys, toiletries, lip balm, hard candy, even bandages with animated characters.
“It’s amazing how far a princess Band-Aid will go when you’re getting an IV or a shot,” Tracey Hankins said.
People are invited to participate in that event — families will gather at 5:30 p.m. Friday at the Five Below store in the Festival at Bel Air shopping center.
Then, on Dec. 21, the family will collect socks, underwear, hats and gloves for the homeless. People can contact Megan Greco via Facebook for more information.
Tracey Hankins said the Grecos have inspired her to be proactive in helping others; she’s provided blankets to put under her family doctor’s office “giving tree” for senior citizens, and has contributed school supplies for a childhood friend’s mission trip in Guatemala through the group, For the Love of Mateo.
Twelve-year-old Michael Greco, a sixth-grader at Southampton Middle School, reflected Saturday on the acts of kindness to police and firefighters, saying: “I think it’s very important because they do a lot. They don’t usually get the respect that they deserve.”
That sentiment is important to his dad, Michael Greco Sr., who said he and his wife stress essential attributes with their children, including honesty, integrity, hard work and helping others.
He’s hoping the 25 Days of Kindness can help spread that initiative to others.
“With the social media it’s nice how it spreads, so it’s not just our kids,” he said. “We get other folks joining in — it’s awesome.”
Santa Claus and the fire company are visiting neighborhoods in the company’s service area through Dec. 23. A schedule has been posted on the Bel Air Volunteer Co. page on Facebook.
On Saturday, residents stood along Majors Choice Drive as fire apparatus turned onto the main drive from Moores Mill Road shortly after 3 p.m., their lights flashing and sirens blaring. Santa got out at each spot where people had gathered, interacting with children and leading his fire company cohorts in singing Christmas carols.
He led the group at Trout Dale Terrace in a rendition of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.”