THE SLEIGH PULL, a Christmas tradition in Wakefield, will continue under new leadership. Shown from left are Ngan Wedemeier, Wakefield Coop Bank’s Lois Hayward, Boys and Girls Club Bethany Riley, John and Sandra Shelton. (Colleen Riley Photo)

Published in the December 8, 2017 edition.


WAKEFIELD — The annual Sleigh Pull, a Wakefield Christmas tradition for 25 years, almost didn’t happen this year. What? How can that be? Why, the Sleigh Pull is an important part of the Christmas season just as cooking a turkey is on Thanksgiving Day.

For all of those years, just before Christmas John and Sandie Shelton oversaw the delivery of gifts to the neediest children in town. Shelton, dressed as Santa Claus, sat up front in the red sleigh while eight costumed reindeer pulled the sleigh through town, stopping at homes along the way to deliver dolls, games, arts and crafts kits and other toys.

But this year, the Sheltons decided to step down. A lot of work was involved not only in pulling the sleigh but in buying and wrapping up to 200 gifts and then getting them delivered. The Sheltons were understandably tired. They also decided to sell the sleigh and reindeer costumes. And what better place to advertise than Facebook.

When Ngan Wedemeier saw the sleigh for sale on the Wakefield Yard Sale Facebook page, she was saddened to learn that the beloved Sleigh Pull tradition was coming to an end.

“I had never seen it in person, but I knew about it,” she said. “Every year I vowed to make an effort to take my kids to see the Sleigh Pull, so anyone can see how sad I was.”

Wedemeier said she knew that the sleigh should never leave Wakefield, so she stepped forward to see what could be done. When word spread about a possible sale of the sleigh, many people jumped in to help. Wedemeier contacted the Wakefield Co-operative Bank, and Michael Wolnik, president and CEO, immediately pledged the necessary funds to purchase the sleigh, which he then donated to the Boys & Girls Club of Wakefield and Stoneham.

The biggest challenge, said Wedemeier, was finding a permanent home for the sleigh.

“I reached out to several groups in Wakefield, and found that the Boys & Girls Club of Wakefield and Stoneham was a natural fit,” she said, adding that Bethany Riley from the Club was instrumental in bringing the project together.

“Paul and Lisa Paglierani were among the first people to jump the line and volunteer,” she said.

Wedemeier also contacted Ben Schools from West Side Social Club who generously agreed to store all the donated gifts and host a gift-wrapping party. She also spoke with Regina Martini who agreed to design a logo that same day.

“The people in this town are amazing,” said Wedemeier.

There’s no doubt about that when you consider that a total of 85 people in town have volunteered for the Sleigh Pull over the years. And if 95 children received gifts each year over the last 25 years, that means 2,375 kids had a better Christmas than they might have had otherwise.

Everyone involved will be busy for the next two weeks. Paul Paglierani will be working with Riley to collect 200 gifts in that timeframe. The wrapped gifts will then be distributed during this year’s run.

“We will also be raising funds to repair the sleigh for this year’s delivery,” said Wedemeier. “Ben Schools will coordinate storing and wrapping the gifts. And Paul will work with Bethany and John Shelton to plan and execute the route.”

Asked what he would miss most about the Sleigh Pull, Shelton replied, “The children. We did it for the kids, not for our own glory.” Shelton added that his greatest joy was seeing the look on the children’s faces when they received their gifts.

Happily, the Sheltons are staying on as advisors, and many of the volunteers from the past will once again volunteer alongside a new group of volunteers.

Since the sleigh’s purchase, the program has been renamed Wakefield Santa Sleigh Special Delivery. Currently, there are three toy collection sites: Wakefield Co-operative Bank, the Boys & Girls Club in the lower level of the Americal Civic Center and the T-Stop on Main Street. Only money can be donated at the bank. Gift donations should be made to the boxes with the logo on it.

Wedemeier gives a big thank you to those who are making this year’s program possible, including Wolnik, Riley, Schools, the Paglieranis, the Sheltons and Jennie Terry, marketing and social media director for Wakefield Co-operative Bank.