As he has done since 1991, Santa Claus arrived early for more than 175 children in the North Fork area, bringing bags of gifts and spreading holiday cheer Saturday at the annual North Fork Children's Christmas Party.
This year's event was a big success, said director Pam Bliss. In the last 24 years the party has resulted in an estimated 60,000 gifts going under the trees of area children, many of whom may not otherwise have packages to open on Christmas day.
This year 177 children were on Santa's list. Baby bags were given to 44 children under the age of 3, and kids ages 4-10 each received an age-appropriate gift bag from Santa, filled with toys, outerwear, clothing and more. Each bag contains at least 14 wrapped items, said Bliss.
Another 30 youths ages 11-12 received $50 Walmart gift certificates.
Saturday morning's cold, wet weather didn't keep any of the anticipated 105 children from attending the party, held in the warmth of Hotchkiss Memorial Hall, but it kept a few volunteers away, said Bliss, which makes her appreciate even more all that they do. With outdoor activities including the hayride and outdoor basketball canceled due to the weather, Memorial Hall was a little crowded, but spirits remained high.
Santa posed for pictures with children, which were placed in custom frames made at one of the many crafts booths offered during the event. Everyone enjoyed live music, caroling, face painting with Annette Murray, decorating of cookie ornaments at Cookie Town, making balloon animals, breaking piñatas, and story time with Mrs. Claus. A big holiday meal was also served.
Organizers work throughout the year to make this day special, said Bliss. The Re/Max Yard Sale for Charity, held annually in July, raised $2,500 toward the event. Numerous individuals also make donations for the party, and it couldn't happen without them, said Bliss.
Plans are already underway for the 25th annual party. Volunteers begin shopping once post-holiday sales begin, when prices on quality name-brand items are low. "That's how we manage to get such nice stuff," said Bliss.
"We want to thank the community for their outpouring of generosity," said Bliss. "It's community supporting community, and that's as good as it gets."