New York’s Racetrack Chaplaincy Set To Deliver a Special Time of Year for Backstretch Families

November 1, 2022

ELMONT, N.Y. – With the holidays approaching, families start making travel plans, gift shopping, planning menus and putting up decorations. The same traditions apply to the New York chapter of the Racetrack Chaplaincy of America (NYRTCA), as it prepares for a jam-packed series of holiday events for backstretch families – with one notable exception.

Planning for the Chaplaincy’s holiday schedule didn’t start last month or even in September. It started in June.

“Come June, we should be done planning for the summer,” explained Chaplain Humberto Chavez, the NYRTCA Executive Director. “Every nut is tightened so that we walk into the Saratoga summer meet with all our pieces together. But that’s also when the backburner starts moving forward for Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday season.”

During the summer, the Chaplaincy contacts benefactors and other sources to ensure the funding is available for holiday events. That way, as Chaplain Chavez put it, “we begin tightening up the nuts in September when we get home to Belmont Park.”

And with enough planning, the Chaplaincy is able to squeeze in its ever-expanding number of fall and winter events, from the “Back-to-School” program in September and last month’s Fall Festival last month to the weekly food pantry and preparations to move into its new building this winter at Belmont Park. A full holiday schedule is once again planned, as in pre-pandemic years.

The holiday events:

· 10 a.m., Sat., Nov. 19: Packing for Thanksgiving Distribution (Belmont Clubhouse);
· 10 a.m., Mon., Nov. 21: Thanksgiving Distribution to Backstretch Families (Belmont Clubhouse);
· 11 a.m., Tue. Nov. 22: Backstretch Thanksgiving Luncheon (Rec Hall at Belmont);
· Tue., Dec. 6: Saratoga Christmas “Sponsor a Family” Dinner (Longfellows in Saratoga);
· 6 p.m., Wed., Dec. 14: Christmas Carnival (Belmont Clubhouse);
· 11 a.m., Tue., Dec. 20: Backstretch Christmas Luncheon (Rec Hall at Belmont); and,
· TBA, Belmont/Aqueduct “Sponsor a Family” Christmas Event.

There are several ways to get involved. Visit to learn about volunteer opportunities from helping to distribute turkeys to contributing to a child or family. This holiday season’s Sponsor-a-Family program provides food and gifts to the neediest backstretch families; with sponsors supplying new winter clothing and new toys for the children and a gift card from the grocery for the family’s Christmas dinner.

Sponsors may request to be assigned a specific family or may make a financial contribution.

“For donors and volunteers, this is an opportunity to get involved and get to know some of the hard-working people of the backstretch,” said Letty McLaughlin, a member of the Chaplaincy’s Honorary Board and active in its year-end festivities. “Getting involved is so important and it also feels good. And if you volunteer year after year as our family does, you get to see some of the children grow up. I love being there.”

Another longtime Chaplaincy supporter, racehorse owner Mike Repole, called his annual sponsorship of the Christmas Carnival, “a way to make things better.”

“During the pandemic when racing was shut down, the backstretch community kept our sport going,” said Repole. “The people there are the heart and soul of horse racing and deserve our whole-hearted support. If I can help to make their holidays a little more special, I’m all in.”

Chaplaincy Program Director Nick Caras agreed, adding that all the work that goes into ensuring the backstretch community and their families get to enjoy the holidays is well worth it.

“We always make a point to look back at the previous year and see what we can do better this time around,” said Caras. “Usually, it’s a tweak here and there, but it makes us better. To be at the Christmas Carnival and see the kids’ faces light up when they’re presented with gifts … well, there’s else nothing like it.”

Chaplain Chavez echoes those sentiments.

“Being able to bless people and enhance their lives just a bit a little better makes this season special,” he said. “We get hundreds of really positive comments every year from those who sponsored a family to moms and dads whose children had a blast at the carnival. We hope and pray this holiday season will be special to more people than ever before.”

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