Playing Santa yesterday to 760 students at Westport Elementary-Middle School, Ronald Rose arrived in the down-to-earth but colorful style of the trash processing plant he works for.
He waved from atop a pickup truck, beside a Wise Man from the north. Also in the parade to the Southwest Baltimore school were the Westport principal, three wailing police cars and a blinking emergency spill truck from the state Department of the Environment.
It was the second year the Baltimore Refuse Energy Systems Co. (BRESCO) and many of its employees have traveled with gifts to the company's partner school on the day before Christmas vacation, and the second year Rose, who operates cranes and other equipment at the plant, was chosen as Santa.
"It was a great honor to be picked again," said Rose, 35, the father of two children "who believe in Santa as much as I do. My wife came down this year to see me off."
Rose said there was another reason for his emotion.
"It was such a joy last year to watch them see a Santa of the same color they are," he said of the school, whose enrollment is mostly African-American.
Before Santa's arrival, Westport students and teachers suspected something big was about to transpire. The children remembered last year's visit, so there was high anxiety as the last day of school before the Christmas break dragged on.
But Steven G. Tomczewski, the BRESCO general manager, had told Principal Sharon Van Dyke that the plant would have to cut back on the party this year.
Rose was still adjusting his Santa beard as he and his entourage arrived and began handing out gift-filled stockings to every child, poinsettias to all 90 staff members and, it seemed as an afterthought, checks for $2,500 to the Westport Police Athletic League and $7,500 to the school.
Santa Rose and the turbaned wise man -- in real life Jim McHugh, 42, from BRESCO's purchasing department -- moved from classroom to classroom, from the youngest children to the oldest.
"I feel even better this year," Rose whispered.
A few students hugged their stockings fiercely, afraid they would be snatched away. For some, said Van Dyke, the gifts would be all they would receive this Christmas.
The 10-year-old Westport-BRESCO partnership is rooted in refuse. The plant, which Baltimoreans know as that place with the big smokestack (now festooned with a star) beside the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, performs the indelicate task of turning the region's trash into steam and electricity. It's a subsidiary of Wheelabrator Inc., which is a subsidiary of Waste Management Technology Co., one of the world's largest collectors and processors of garbage.
The school, a few blocks south of the plant and across Annapolis Road, is no more glamorous. Its students are poor. Like so many other city schools, Westport has a laundry list of unaddressed needs, according to Van Dyke.
Directing the distribution of gifts yesterday, Tomczewski dismissed BRESCO's largess. "In the scheme of things," he said, "today didn't amount to much. It's the long-range partnership that counts, and we get a lot out of it, too."
Indeed, BRESCO has given many thousands of dollars -- and its employees many thousands of hours -- to a partnership that is the envy of city public schools. The company has planted trees on the school grounds, installed a connection to the Internet, helped rebuild a fire-damaged gymnasium and installed a $21,000 computer lab. Thanks to BRESCO, Westport's sidewalks are cleared of snow long before those at North Avenue school headquarters.
Most of it has been done without publicity. Yesterday's party was advertised by word-of-mouth. Good public relations are never unwelcome, of course, but BRESCO doesn't need to rely on general goodwill to burn trash for profit. All five Wheelabrator recycling plants have strong partnerships with nearby public schools, said Gina Molz, who came from the company's Pennsylvania headquarters yesterday.
At Westport, meanwhile, Rose was exhausted after his day as Santa. "I made them shine," he said, "made them shine! It's nice!"
Pub Date: 12/21/96