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Antietam Exchange Club hosts annual Christmas Party for Kids

December 03, 2011|By DAN DEARTH | dan.dearth@herald-mail.com

For more than 30 years, the Antietam Exchange Club has hosted its annual Christmas Party for Kids not only to make sure children enjoy the holiday, but to offer their parents a little help by donating diapers and other necessities.

Arthur Schneider, Exchange Club member and event co-chair, said Saturday during this year's party at the Masonic Temple in downtown Hagerstown that organizers planned for about 200 people.

"Each child got to sit with Santa Claus and talk about Christmas," Schneider said. "The younger ones who can't speak got to sit with Santa Claus to begin to understand Christmas."

The participants were members of the Washington County Health Department's Healthy Families program, which helps first-time mothers learn parenting skills and, in some cases, provides clothing, diapers and other essentials that some people might not be able to afford.

Schneider said the party costs about $10,000 to stage. The expense is paid by donations and fundraising. He said AC&T donated fried chicken dinners, and Youngblood Studios in Hagerstown took free portraits of children sitting with Santa Claus.

Tracy Soffe, manager of the Washington County Health Department's Healthy Families program, said Healthy Families is offered to first-time mothers, regardless of their income. The program helps participants until their children turn 5 or enter kindergarten.

She said the program began in 2000 and has become so popular that there is a waiting list to get in.

During the event, children sang songs and were given books and toys while Santa read stories. There was an arts and crafts section where children, among other things, used glue put their names in glitter on Christmas hats.

Hagerstown resident Brianna, 21, said she joined the Healthy Families program shortly after her daughter, Addison, was born 8 months ago.

"I'm thankful for it," Brianna said. "They come together and they help us out. If we ever need anything, they're there for us."

Brianna said counselors in the program know what the first-time mothers are going through because many of the counselors have experienced the same thing.

"I don't see them as counselors," she said. "I see them as friends."

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