Weeks of effort by volunteers for the Woodland Community Center culminated in a two-hour gift-giving party Saturday at the Woodland High School Commons.Volunteer Portia Brown, who is on the center’s board of directors, headed up the giving tree portion of the event. She placed 16 “giving trees” decorated with paper angels in area businesses and churches. Each angel represented a child who is served by the Woodland Community Center. It listed the child’s sex and age as well as three gifts on the child’s wish list.Community members were encouraged to choose an angel from a tree and to fill a child’s Christmas wish.Three hours before the event, executive director Sheri Monge’s husband, Doug, and the couple’s sons were already at the high school commons delivering gifts to get ready for the 259 children who had signed up, plus a few more. Their car was loaded to the brim with wrapped presents.“This year twice the number of children signed up as last year,” Brown said.
People of all ages gave generously. “Last night,” said Brown,” a family delivered presents. Their daughter had chosen a tag for a 10-year-old girl, and she used her birthday money to buy the gift.”
The event started at noon, and when I arrived, there were already many children sitting around the large decorated tables, tracing their hands on construction paper. Each table held paper, scissors and crayons. Some children carefully cut around the constructions-paper fingers, and others cut the paper into tiny confetti-like bits. The arts and crafts project at the tables gave the excited children something to do while waiting to visit Santa and receive their gifts.
Volunteers served refreshments at the back of the room, and youngsters loaded their plates with some of their favorites: graham crackers, cheese, crackers and homemade cookies.
“The party is for babies through high-school aged children,” Brown said.
Though I noticed kids of all ages, most appeared to be under 10. There were lots of strollers, baby carriers, and babes in arms. Blonde hair stuck out from under one young boy’s green elf hat. With a large crowd of children waiting to receive presents, Santa must have been happy to see an elf.
Doug Monge called the names of the children whose turn it was to visit Santa, and they excitedly left their tables to wait in line. One of the first to visit Santa was Sierra Rose, age 12, who visited with Santa and received her gifts, but thought she was too old to sit on his knee.
Most of the younger kids, and a few of the older ones, were happy to sit with Santa to have their picture taken, but one toddler cried as soon as he saw the bearded man in the red suit. His mother comforted him, but as they again took a step towards Santa, his whimpering turned to a loud wail. Not even a candy cane could make him less afraid, so a volunteer gave him his gifts without the traditional visit.
After visiting Santa, children next moved on to choose a plush animal, a pencil box and a toy from a barrel. They left with their arms loaded with gifts. Two-year-old Jose Zavala cried because he couldn’t remove the cellophane from his candy cane, and he wasn’t ready to choose a teddy bear before tasting the sweet mint of the red and white candy.
As the crowd thinned, volunteers started clearing empty tables. Children became restless, and they chased each other around tables, tossing their floppy teddy bears into the air. Some colored in coloring books while parents visited. I overheard some kids who were already looking forward to next year’s event.
At the end, when each child had received gifts, the garbage cans were stuffed with Christmas wrappings covered with pictures of Santa, snowmen, Christmas trees and angels — reminding me of the angels who had worked so hard to bring joyous smiles to these children.