By: Red Cross Volunteer Diane P. Coffey
All merry and bright, the music was playing, the children singing and dancing, families and friends sharing good food patiently waiting for Santa to arrive. When all of a sudden, right through the Downtown Philadelphia Marriott Ballroom doors Santa arrived laughing and greeting the children with hugs and high fives!
Once again, our community of volunteers and supporters has stepped in to assist the American Red Cross Eastern Region create an unforgettable Children’s Holiday Party for the children and their families who suffered a disaster in the past year. Some lost everything, including their homes, this past year. As Judge Renée Cardwell Hughes welcomed the 500 guests to the holiday celebration, she expressed how personally inspired she was by everyone’s resiliency and their ability to overcome challenging hardships. For Judge Hughes, “the Children’s Holiday Party is an evening of pure joy! It’s an opportunity to give back some happiness to the children and their families who have lost so much this past year.”
The American Red Cross does a lot of things for a lot of people, and certainly disaster response is what we are most known for. Last year, the American Red Cross of Eastern Pennsylvania responded to more than 1,200 disasters and helped approximately 5,350 people. Most were fires, but some were floods and power outages.
Fire Commissioner Derrek Sawyer expressed how thankful he is to the citizens of Philadelphia. “While there has been a reduction in residential fires, the fire department can’t achieve fire safety and prevention goals without the help of the community – we need you to help us,” he said.
Joining the party were special friends and mascots Freddie the Fire Truck, Gentry the Fire Dog, and Fred Cross. Gentry and Fred Cross love to have their photos taken with their young friends, while Freddie the Fire Truck with flashing red lights rolls along engaging children in conversations about fire safety and asking if they routinely practice evacuation drills. How about you – does your family practice evacuation drills?
The Children’s Party wouldn’t be possible without the generosity and kindness of the many Red Cross sponsors and volunteers like the Philadelphia Marriott Downtown Hotel for hosting the event in a beautiful ballroom and providing much of the food and beverages. Additional food and beverages were provided by Clemens Food Group, Drexelbrook Caterers, Herr’s and WAWA. The staff at the Marriott did a super job setting up the kid-friendly hot dog and chicken finger buffet complete with fries and all the condiments.
PECO volunteers kept the children busy with carnival games including bowling, ring toss, donut twister and flag games. JNA Institute of Culinary Arts provided ginger bread people and set up decorating tables for the kids to “dress” the ginger bread in colored frosting and lots of candy decorations. The students from JNA Institute of Culinary Arts baked all the ginger bread people and worked side by side with the children to create a memorable experience.
Red Cross “elves” set up tables with crayons and glitter for coloring pictures and another table was set up with markers, rubber stamps and ink for card making. Red Cross volunteers helped artists of all ages create just the right picture and holiday card. Crazy Faces Face Painting, www.JenniferMontgomery.net added colorful memories with festive and colorful face painting.
DJ Jazzy Joe kept the music playing nonstop with beats that made us all want to move. The Red Cross Club volunteers reached out to Fire Commissioner Sawyer with an invitation to join them on the dance floor. Sawyer took to bopping with kids of all ages and heights, even dancing the Whip/Nae Nae.
A holiday party isn’t complete without a picture with Santa Claus. Eric Helt, Chair of the Children’s Holiday Party shared a touching memory from last year’s party of a mother in tears as she looked at the photo of her children with Santa. This family survived a fire with their lives, but lost everything, including all their family pictures. For this mother, a photograph of her children with Santa represented starting over with new memories.
Thank you to Aaron Mitchell Photography for making the children smile, snapping the shot and providing photos with Santa for everyone to take home.
Whether the children wrote a letter to Santa or not, his bag was filled with gifts for all the children. Each age appropriate tagged gift was carefully unpacked from Santa’s bag and organized by Red Cross Club volunteers who stood ready to help distribute each and every one. American Red Cross of Eastern Pennsylvania Director of Special Events Mary Ann Milner said, “Imagine, all these hundreds of gifts are donated.”
Eric Helt is touched by the look of joy in the eyes of some children when they ripped open their gifts and makes note that, “Some families save their gifts to place under the tree, knowing that these might very well be the only gifts the children will receive this year.” Not everyone is in the same place.
Here comes Santa Claus, here comes Santa Claus
Right down Santa Claus lane
He doesn’t care if you’re rich or poor