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Exchange Club gives gifts

December 07, 2008|By MARIE GILBERT

HAGERSTOWN -- Short of snagging a ride to the North Pole, most children won't catch a glimpse of their Christmas presents until Dec. 25.

Saturday morning, Santa made an exception - adjusting his busy itinerary to make an early delivery to 65 local children.

The jolly old elf's appearance was a highlight of a Christmas party hosted by the Antietam Exchange Club for participants in the Healthy Families parenting program.

The celebration, which included music, crafts and a meal, was held at Zion Evangelical & Reformed Church in Hagerstown.

Healthy Families, offered through the Washington County Health Department, is a home visitation program for first-time mothers, said supervisor Jennifer Silliman.

"We provide support, education and a link to resources for new parents," she said.

There are about 50 families in the program.

Silliman said this is the fourth year that the Healthy Families participants have been invited to the Antietam Exchange Club's holiday party.

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"We're very honored," she said. "This is something the families really look forward to every year. Invitations are usually sent out in October, and the excitement builds."

Silliman said she expected 90 percent of program participants to attend the party.

"Some of our families will save the gifts they receive today for Christmas morning," she said. "With the tough economic times, many of our parents really do count on this party to provide for their children."

According to club member Art Schneider, who co-chaired the event with Brenda Bush, the Antietam Exchange Club has been holding a community Christmas party for more than 26 years.

"The Exchange Club is child-oriented, emphasizing American citizenship and child development," he said. "The party is a natural fit for our mission."

Schneider said months of planning go in to making the Christmas party a reality with fundraising and community activities.

"It's a yearlong effort supported by members and their families," he said.

But no one considers it work.

"It's all fun," he said. "When you see the children and meet their parents, you're instantly rewarded."

The Antietam Exchange Club partnered again this year with local department store Kohl's, which provided financial support, discounted items and volunteers to keep Saturday's festivities running smoothly.

Each family was given a number of gifts, Schneider said, including toys, clothing items, diapers and a framed photo of their child's visit with Santa.

Silliman said the opportunity to be part of the celebration is appreciated by everyone in the Healthy Families program.

"After the party, the children or parents write thank-you cards which are then presented to the Exchange Club," she said. "They've written some great messages. Everyone who is a part of this event is very, very grateful."

Among those attending Saturday's party was Jacquelyn Dutrow of Hagerstown, and her children, Eathen, 3, and Eavann, 1.

"I really appreciate being a part of this," she said. "It's something the children have been looking forward to for quite some time. Eathen was talking about it all last night."

Dutrow said she doubted she would be able to save the presents until Christmas.

"I'm sure Eathen will want to open them today," she said. "He's just too excited."

Co-chair Brenda Bush thanked the families for taking time to attend the party and challenged them to go out and do something good for others.

"That's the true spirit of Christmas," she said.

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