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Christmas party about more than gifts

December 12, 2009|By ALICIA NOTARIANNI

HAGERSTOWN -- Sure, Christmas presents are cool.

But children and adults alike who attended one Christmas party with Santa Saturday morning said the celebration was about more than just gifts.

In following a tradition of more than 30 years, the Antietam Exchange Club hosted the club's Children's Christmas Party at Zion Evangelical and Reformed Church in Hagerstown. The club hosted the event for participants in the Healthy Families program through the Washington County Health Department.

"I don't think (participants) look at this as being just about getting gifts," said Tracy Soffe, manager of the Healthy Families program. "It's a time to celebrate the joy of the season and the spirit of family."

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Soffe said parents at the party enjoy spending time with other families and dressing up their children for pictures with Santa.

"This is a time of the year when they really get to see the joy of being a parent," Soffe said. "It's a time to bond and connect around a joyous occasion."

Bright, shiny bulbs adorned a tall Christmas tree, and holiday music rang out to the high ceilings of the sanctuary. Santa sat in a fancy chair welcoming young visitors. At 10:30 a.m., the Otterbein United Methodist Church children's choir performed.

Brenda Bush, Antietam Exchange Club past president and co-chairwoman of the party, said the club supports programs that help prevent child abuse. This was the group's fifth year hosting a Christmas party for Healthy Families.

"Healthy Families made a plea to our service organization," she said. "We listened and provided."

Healthy Families is a free, voluntary program serving first-time mothers prenatally until their children reach age 5. It provides education in parenting skills, links families with community resources and promotes school readiness.

"We are about healthy babies, healthy homes," Soffe said.

Bush said years ago, the exchange club provided each child at the party with "a great big toy." Then, the group reconsidered its approach.

"We wanted to see how we could stretch our dollars to go further," Bush said. "Now, we work with counselors to find out specific wants and needs. The parents need diapers or an outfit for the child."

Party organizers settled on providing a comprehensive package for children, meeting wants and needs all in one. Each of the 65 children who attended received a coat or an outfit, pajamas, a toy, a book, an ornament, a photograph with Santa and a picture frame, and a pack of diapers if needed. They also had a hot lunch of chicken, macaroni and cheese, green beans and applesauce.

Michele Althouse of Hagerstown took her 3-year-old twins, a son and a daughter decked out in red Christmas sweaters, to the party for the third year in a row.

"It's a wonderful experience and a nice way to get the kids into the holiday season," Althouse said. "I think the kids like the interaction, being with other kids. They have a good time and get in the holiday mood."

Althouse said party organizers were gracious for giving freely of their time and energy to host the party, especially at this time of the year.

Jodian Robinson, 21, of Hagerstown, said it was her second time attending the party with her 16-month-old son.

"I like that the kids get up on stage and sing, that they have pictures with Santa, and the food," Robinson said. "I've seen some people I know, and I got to know some new people. This just gets you in the spirit, in the mood for everything."

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