Melvin, Iransito, and Iran Ruda assist Joe Cedillo (center) with setting up the Easter decorations and preparing the Easter baskets that will be given away to visitors at 518 Prospect Avenue this weekend. Photo by Dorri Partain

By Dorri Partain

His front yard has been taken over by an assortment of over-sized bunnies and chicks, and Joe Cedillo could not be happier. The decorated lawn is only the backdrop of a larger event in which the Easter Bunny will be handing out treats to families that stop by on Easter Sunday.

A long-time resident of Northeast, Cedillo has lived in the neighborhood since his family moved here when he was three years old. Now he’s a real estate investor looking to share holiday traditions with those who may not have encountered a visit with the Easter Bunny or Santa Claus before.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Cedillo traveled to Central and South America, visiting communities in Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Panama, Costa Rica, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela, donning his Santa Claus suit and passing out gifts to children. When travel bans shut down those annual trips, he shifted his generosity to his own neighborhood.

“Not everyone gets to experience Christmas or Easter the same way,” Cedillo said. “There are many families now from Africa or the Middle East. My neighbors next door are from Africa and they asked about all the decorations I had in my yard for Christmas. So, I gave them some Christmas lights I didn’t use and they put them up to decorate their yard, too.”

The week before Christmas, Cedillo dressed up as Santa and made special appearances along Independence Avenue. For families that stopped by, they received a Christmas card as an invitation to visit Santa and receive a gift on Christmas Eve. Last year, Cedillo did the same dressed as the Easter Bunny, but this year the bunny will pass out treats at Cedillo’s decorated yard only.

While Cedillo enjoys being Santa or the Easter Bunny, this time he’s asking a friend to don the costume.

“I like to take pictures – the joy on kids’ faces, it’s awesome – and I can’t take pictures if I’m in the costume, you know,” Cedillo explained.

Cedillo also has two young helpers, Iransito and Melvin Ruda, ages 5 and 7, who help their “Papa Joe” pick out the candy.

“Whatever they set their eyes on, that’s what I’ll be buying – I’ll be cleaning the store shelves!” he said, chuckling.

While Cedillo observes Easter as a Christian – the Easter Bunny won’t appear until the afternoon so families can attend morning church services – he welcomes everyone.

“It doesn’t matter to me,” he stated. “All walks of life, they are welcome. I just want to share love and kindness, to show my sons what the holidays mean.”

In addition to Christmas and Easter, Cedillo decorated his yard for Valentine’s Day this year and passed out chocolate hearts to visiting youngsters.

Cedillo said he plans to have the Easter Bunny passing out treats on Holy Saturday, April 16 from 2 to 4 p.m. and giving out baskets on Easter Sunday, April 17 from 2 to 4 p.m.  Visitors are also welcome to take photos with the decorations in the yard at 518 Prospect Avenue.