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Club gives little ones a 'thrill of Christmas'

December 03, 2006|by MARIE GILBERT

HAGERSTOWN - Saturday was a first for the little girl with the striking blue eyes.

In years past, Santa had made her cry.

But here she was, fearlessly sitting next to him, whispering in his ear and even smiling as she had her picture taken.

"It's a Christmas miracle," her mother joked, as the 4-year-old left Santa's side and headed for a tray of cookies. "I guess you never know what to expect with kids."

Santa's appearance was the highlight of a Christmas party hosted by the Antietam Exchange Club for participants in the local Healthy Families parenting program.

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The event was at Zion Evangelical & Reformed Church in Hagerstown.

Healthy Families, offered through the Washington County Health Department, is a program that assists first-time mothers, said Mary McPherson, program manager.

This is the second year that Healthy Families was invited to the holiday celebration "and we were thrilled to once again be a part of this," she said.

Invitations were sent to all 64 program participants, McPherson said, "and from what I've been told by staff members, people have been really excited about today."

"This is something that enriches their Christmas," McPherson said. "Like most of us, they're working hard to be good parents and meet their goals. And, sometimes, it's tough. This is a chance to just have some fun."

According to Brenda Bush, who chaired this year's party, the Exchange Club has been hosting the holiday event for at least 26 years.

Families were treated to brunch, a visit with Santa and gifts provided by the organization that included a coat or outfit, toys, a case of diapers, a personalized ornament, art supplies and a framed photo to remember their visit with Santa.

Scott Paddack, an Exchange Club member who has played Santa for the past 10 years, said he always looks forward to the party.

"It's awesome," he said. "I have as much fun as the kids. I really enjoy getting into the Christmas spirit, and helping them get into the Christmas spirit, too."

For this year's party, Bush said, the Exchange Club partnered with local department store Kohl's, which provided not only financial support, but volunteers to keep the festivities running smoothly.

"I love kids and thought this would be something fun to do," said Tiffany Dillman. "We're here to help out any way we can."

Arthur Schneider, an Antietam Exchange Club member and former Christmas party chairman, said a great deal of work goes into holding the annual party.

"Club members bake goodies, we have a shopping team that selects gifts for each child and we have to have fundraising events throughout the year," he said.

"But it's worth it. As a club, we get the thrill of Christmas and the wonderful feeling that comes with helping others."

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