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Santa makes early stop at club's party

December 05, 2004|by Alicia Notarianni

alician@herald-mail.com

Someone in the Antietam Exchange Club must have connections in the North Pole.

The club arranged for Santa Claus to make an early stop Saturday morning to pass out toys and spend time with children who are at risk of abuse or neglect.

Eighty-five children up to age 14 gathered with their families in the social hall at Zion United Church of Christ for the festivities. The children were referred by the Parent-Child Center, a local nonprofit organization with a mission to prevent child abuse.

A 6-year-old girl looked delighted as she clung to one of her gifts from Santa - a stuffed Shrek toy about 2 feet tall.

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"He's big and fat and cuddly," she said as she carefully patted the green ogre.

A 7-year-old boy looked awestruck as he sorted through his large bag filled with a racetrack, race cars, trucks and more.

A 4-year-old girl set her eyes on her new stroller and accessories exclaiming, "Little baby things!"

An infant boy seemed even more enamored by sitting on Santa's lap and tugging on his beard than he was by his new toys.

Millie Lowman, executive director of the Parent-Child Center, said the Exchange Club's annual Christmas party is very important to the children served by the center.

"These children would probably not have Christmas at all if not for this party," Lowman said.

Matthew Dick of Williamsport, president of the Antietam Exchange Club, said one of the club's primary goals is to prevent child abuse and neglect through support of the Parent-Child Center. Lowman said without the support of the Exchange Club, it would be very difficult for the Parent-Child Center to function.

Arthur Schneider of Hagerstown, a member of the Antietam Exchange Club and chairman of the party, said more than 30 volunteers from the Exchange Club and the Parent-Child Center volunteered at the event.

Besides chatting with Santa and receiving gifts, children who attended were treated to hot dogs, chips and drinks, a Christmas carol sing-along and goody bags full of snacks to take home.

Leroy Burtner of Hagerstown, a member of the Antietam Exchange Club, said he has been one of Santa's helpers at the party for more than 20 years.

"It's a great experience sharing and being part of this celebration and seeing the excitement in (the children's) eyes," Burtner said.

Kathleen Riley, 54, is a former member of the Antietam Exchange Club and a former Hagerstown resident. Though she now lives in Baltimore, Riley couldn't resist the urge to come back and help out with the party.

"It's so much fun just to see the looks on their faces," Riley said.

Schneider said Toys 'R' Us in Frederick, Md., accommodated the Exchange Club with reduced prices on gifts and extended hours for shopping. Other party sponsors included AC&T, Zion United Church of Christ, Office Essentials Inc., Michael Nye, Sam's Club, Hagerstown Trust, Farmers & Merchants Bank and Trust and Netconn Solutions.

The Antietam Exchange Club meets at 7:30 a.m. Tuesdays at Richardson's Restaurant on Dual Highway. Interested parties are welcome to attend.

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