Hunts Point honors Sister Thomas at annual event
Hundreds of festive revelers from as close as Kelly Street and as far away as Pennsylvania gathered on Oct. 24 for the 29th Annual New South Bronx Halloween Parade to celebrate the holiday and honor the memory of Sister Miriam Thomas, a longtime neighborhood activist and a founder of the event.
The well-known Sister Thomas, a member of the Sisters of Charity, first moved to Hunts Point to teach at St. Athanasius School on Southern Boulevard in 1962. Five years later, she became a community organizer who went to incredible lengths to restore the community, and worked on its behalf until her death this past March at 80.
The crowds began to gather 5 p.m. on the corner of Simpson Street and Westchester Avenue. Organizers hoisted ornately decorated banners; dancers and band members practiced their routines; and parade-goers adjusted their costumes and posed for pictures. Children and adults of all ages were dressed for the event; some even brought along the family pet – in costume. There was a bevy of teenagers dressed as babies; dozens of creepy monsters and even creepier clowns; a cluster of girls sporting blue tutus; and the usual smattering of superheroes and Disney characters.
This year’s parade was put together by Community Board 2. Best banner and best costume prizes were awarded in five different categories and the kids received finalist tags before the marching started. While many participants spoke about their desire to win the contest, one aspect of the event was repeated by many, no matter what age.
“I am here because I would like to celebrate all of the things Sister Thomas did for us,” said 8-year-old Haily Ortiz, who was dressed as a samurai.
As the sun set, it cast a pink and orange hue over the throngs, lit up Simpson Street and reflected on the brightly-colored banners.
“Today we have nice temperature,” said Carmen Villafane, holding a banner emblazoned with Sister Thomas’ face, “I think that it was her.”
Parade marchers carried stereos through the crowd, the theme song of the event blasting on repeat. Stevie Wonder’s 1984 classic, “I Just Called to Say I Love You,” was Sister Thomas’s favorite song and the phrase was painted across many banners as a reminder.
Marta Rivera, director of programs for Casita Maria, was dressed up this year as Sister Thomas. Her big white curly wig and wire glasses were Marta’s way of honoring her friend.
“I consider her my mentor for life. We were very close.” She said. “She actually helped so many people, you couldn’t even count.”
Young dancers from United We Drill, a dance drill team from Philadelphia, Pa., led the parade at 6:30 p.m. down Westchester Ave. A van laminated with pictures of Sister Thomas followed close behind, carrying a dozen women from the SEBCO senior program dressed as nuns. Lilian Gonzalez, a program assistant at SEBCO, smiled as she remembered Sister Thomas. “She loved the parade. She loved serving the community. There was nobody like her.”
Chen Carrasco, a Hunts Point resident who, like his dog, was dressed as a zombie, expressed his approval that the parade was honoring the adored nun.
“I think the work she did for the community is going to live long after her death,” he said. “She is always going to be here.”
As the parade approached its ending point at the entrance to the Church of St. Athanasius on Fox Street, each group gave a final performance while residents looked on and snapped photographs. The crowd then huddled around a brightly lit stage as John Calderon, the coordinator of the event, welcomed 10-year-old Jada Smalls, who sang Stevie’s hit as one last honor for Sister Thomas.
This year, an addition to the judging panel was the new captain of the 41st Precinct captain, Martine Materasso. “I have worked a lot of different precincts in the Bronx and I have never seen an event put together that brings the community together as this one,” she said. “It is phenomenal.”