It may not be December, but who said Santa isn’t allowed to enjoy some summer fun?
Dona DelRossi arranged a Christmas in July birthday party for her granddaughter Deven two weeks ago.
Dona, a Medford resident, wanted an interactive event to gather Deven’s friends and celebrate her eighth birthday, especially after a year of virtual learning.
“So I called Maria’s Mom’s (Italian Bakery in Marlton) and said, ‘Are you interested?’ She said of course,’” explained Dona, who then asked if Santa would show up. The answer was yes.
Dona went on to plan the surprise birthday party for Deven and collaborated with Maria and Fred Ritter, Marlton residents and owners of the bakery, to put together a virtual Christmas-themed cooking class.
Instead of keeping presents from her friends, Deven wanted to donate them to Toys for Tots, a longtime nonprofit that collects new and unwrapped toys and distributes them to less fortunate children at Christmas.
Dona went to the bakery before the party and grabbed seven cooking sets that featured cookie dough, licorice, pixie sticks, icing and a cookie shape maker for each of the children who would attend the party. She then brought each set to the kids’ homes.
When the clock struck 5 p.m. it was party time. Santa walked down the stairs in a Hawaiian shirt and sunglasses, and sat down in the bakery kitchen to get ready for the Zoom call.
Once Deven’s seven friends were on the call, Maria announced the surprise party. Deven at first thought the event was a Christmas in July party to support Toys for Tots. As her friends cheered, she smiled demurely.
“I think that Deven has been coming [to the bakery] since she was probably 3 or 4 years old,” Maria recalled. “For decorating cookies with Santa in person.”
Before the pandemic, the Ritters would hold a variety of cooking camps and bake with Santa events in December at the bakery. This year, they adapted to COVID restrictions by putting together Zoom classes for all ages.
During the party, “Santa” playfully teased Maria, prompting one child on the Zoom call to say, “Santa’s really misbehaved.” A little boy answered, “He didn’t misbehave. He just has no experience with cooking. All of his experience is with toys.”
After rolling out dough, Maria showed each of the children what it should look like and gave them the option to decorate the cookies with the material of their choice in the sets Dona provided.
While the kids were decorating, Maria took a second to show Deven and her guests the display of presents that would be donated to Toys for Tots, all from the families of Deven and seven friends who helped her celebrate her birthday. That night, Deven told her grandmother she wants every birthday to be a surprise party.
Dona plans to put together another event in the fall to benefit Toys for Tots, in collaboration with the bakery.
“Toys for Tots said they’ve been a little desperate because of the pandemic,” she noted. “I said, of course we would do something in the fall, because they’re desperate for toys from the ages of 8 to 12 years old.”
The Ritters are now holding in person cooking classes in their bakery kitchen. Although classes are limited, Maria is grateful to see familiar faces return to the shop.
“We’re building relationships, and we’re building trust,” she said. “Parents can see that. We love kids, we love to see them smile and love to make them happy.”
For more information on Maria’s Mom’s Italian Bakery, go to https://mariasmoms.com/story