By Diane C. Lore |

holidaySTATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — Children with autism who attend Eden II programs on Staten Island received a special visit from the jolly man in red himself, aka Santa Claus, during a holiday pizza party Monday in the school’s new center in Stapleton.

The party, sponsored by the nonprofit “Better Angels of Our Human Nature,” is the first participants have enjoyed had since they moved into the new building at 15 Beach Street in October. The new center is dedicated to former Borough President James Molinaro.

The afternoon was filled with wide-eyed wonder as children opened their presents from Santa.

The gifts were all donations courtesy of the Staten Island Bikers Association, Intoxx Fitness, the South Shore Rotary and Steven Siller Foundation. Basketballs, footballs, race cars and DVDs were some of the many gifts piled high in the school’s cafeteria.

As Thomas DeSoye opened his toy car with flashing lights and noises, his eyes lit up with excitement and he gave a big smile.

“It was a beautiful day for our kids and the teachers. My heart felt happy to see them all so happy. My son, Vinnie, was so excited when he opened his toy — a remote-controlled car,” said Sharyn Ruggiero.

The day served as a way to treat students and the hard-working staff.

“The staff here are my guardian angels,” said Ruggiero.

Ernest Tromley of Better Angels said he was awed by the gratitude and happiness that surrounded him.

“It was a wonderful experience. Just knowing the kids were so appreciative. They were saying, ‘Thank you, Ernie,’ and it felt really great to be able to do this for them. I can’t wait to do more for these children.”

Miss New York Jamie Lynn Macchia and Miss Staten Island Heather Wolf also visited and snapped photos with Santa and the kids.

Eden II executive director Dr. Joanne Gerenser said she was thrilled by the generosity of the community.

“This was an amazing opportunity to see the positive impacts of our community at work. So many people came together to give our kids a day to remember.”

Eden II serves children and young adults with autism, providing specialized community based programs and other opportunities with the goal of enabling them to achieve the highest possible quality of living across their life spans. The organization includes residences, a diagnostic and outreach center, adult program and preschool.

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