On the sidelines of the small crowd that waited for the horse-drawn carriage to make its way to the stop so they could have their turn, a middle-aged woman in a purple jacket sat patiently. She smiled benevolently as the children squealed their pleasure at the tall horse.

Mrs. Santa stood nearby giving out cookies to those who waited for a turn.

“Santa is out delivering presents,” she explained to those waiting. “He’s very busy this time of the year.” She waved to a driver going past.

The woman in purple had already had her turn, but wanted to go again and again. Daniele Bolton is her name and she is from New York.

“It reminds me of my home town, Queens Village in New York, because it is very family-oriented,” she said.

Bolton was smiling but her heart was breaking. She has been in Garden City trying to locate her grandson, so far with no success. She came to Garden City in October and, down to her last few dollars, she has been contemplating returning home to Florida.

She might have gone away with bad memories of Garden City but for the free rides organized Saturday by Scheopner’s Water Conditioning.

“I am amazed at the feeling of community here,” she said as the next group got on the carriage. “There are free rides in Florida, where I come from, but I am surprised at how the families have actually responded to this. This is what Christmas is all about, family activities.”

Christina Britton and her daughter Dakota were just having a girl’s day out when they went for the free ride. “I took one of my clients from MOSAIC, Felicia and the three of us decided to go for a ride and it was fun,” she said.

Israel Melora Perez came along with his family of two children and wife. They said they enjoyed the ride immensely.

Liz Scheopner, proprietor of Scheopner’s Water, said the company was sponsoring the rides for the first time this year.

“Preparing for the ride takes about three hours, maybe, to get the horse ready for a day’s events,” Janice Parks said on the sidewalk where the waiting crowd stood as her husband Kevin drove the carriage. “This is probably the sixth year we’ve been doing this. That is the colt of the mare that we started with,” she explained.

The couple offers free rides every year under the auspices of Downtown Vision. This year, the couple offered rides three Saturdays. Janice said sometimes there have been long lines that necessitate her getting into a crowd control role.

“The first two weeks we probably gave rides to about 500 people. Every carriage load takes 16 people and we are here for two hours. “We do this every year just to see the joy on the faces of the little kids,” she said. “They just love it.”