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Santa Comes to Passaic for Free Photos with Families

northjersey.com
Sat Dec 22, 2018

PASSAIC ─ Taking a photo with Santa Claus does not come cheap.

At Willowbrook Mall in Wayne and Garden State Plaza in Paramus, photo package prices start at $40. The Mall at Short Hills charges $27 for two small photos and $50 for a full package.

Bill Cuello, a godfather to a 2-year-old girl, took one look at the costs last month and knew he had to do something different.

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“There are so many people who can’t have photos with Santa because it’s pricey and just a hassle so I decided to give back to the community and just make it more accessible for people,” Cuello said.

On Saturday, after weeks of hurried planning, Cuello set up his own photo shoot with Santa with no package pricing.

His Santa posed with children for free.

The unusual offer drew a few hundred families to the Fiesta Club in Passaic, where children met a bilingual Santa, ate free candy and left with free digital and print photo copies of the experience.

“Some of these parents can’t afford to buy gifts so this is really good for them,” said Mindy Calixto, who brought her 8-year-old daughter, Allison, to meet Santa. “Those that don’t expect anything will get something here.”

Cuello organized the event with help from friends, family and his school, Berkeley College. The college pitched in with promotion and donated a photo printer.

Juan Zuniga, owner of the Fiesta Club, said he jumped at the chance to host another holiday event for families. The club is also the setting for a Three Kings' Day celebration on Jan. 6 that provides free toys to more than 3,000 local children.

“We never say no, anything we can have for the kids is good for us,” Zuniga said. “Most people can’t afford to go to the mall and spend $25 on pictures so for us to do this for the kids is awesome.”

The cost had been prohibitive for his niece, Berenice Vergara, for years. Her oldest children, who are 12 and 13, never had their photo taken with Santa. But her youngest, 6-year-old Michael, was finally able to take part in the Christmas tradition on Saturday.

He was joined by a stepbrother and two cousins.

“They’re happy and that’s what I love,” Vergara said. "It's a great thing for them."

Cuello, a lifelong resident of Passaic, said he plans to continue organizing photos with Santa for years to come.

“I’ve got nothing to gain from it, it’s just something for the community,” Cuello said. “Something to help out the parents who were not able to do this in prior years.”

Email: shkolnikova@northjersey.com

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