Christmas comes early: Winterfest hosts holiday party for local children

Published 3:17 pm Thursday, December 27, 2018

STANFORD — Plenty of kids can’t wait until Christmas Day to get their visit from Santa. In Lincoln County, Christmas came a little early this year for some local children.

On Dec. 20, around 280 kids and their families came to Lincoln County High School to be a part of the annual Winterfest program, and each child from 0 years old to fifth grade got a gift from Santa and Mrs. Claus themselves.

The Winterfest event, which was started by Peggy Hubbard back in the 1980’s, raises money annually to make sure that all children have a happy holiday.

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“Watching the kids leave with their toys and a smile on their face makes it all worthwhile,” said Winterfest chairperson Kendra Mitchell. “This is my eighth year as being the chairperson and every year I think, ‘Well, should we keep doing it?’ But then, when you see this many people and how happy it makes them and you can help this many people, it’s worth it.”

“I wish more would come.”

All of the children attending Thursday’s Winterfest received a special invitation to the holiday event.

“It is by invitation only,” Mitchell said. “A committee of five people work with Winterfest. We get all the referrals in November of people who might need a little help and then we invited the families and asked them to R.S.V.P. That allows me to know how much food I need and how many gifts I need in each grade level and gender.”

Those who responded “Yes” to the Winterfest invitation were greeted by strains of Christmas music by DJ E-Z-E Tim Estes, the sight of hundreds of wrapped gifts and the aroma of a holiday meal.

Not all of the children in attendance finished their meals in one sitting, however, with the arrival of Santa and Mrs. Claus midway through the meal prompting many to leave the table and sneak up for an early visit with the red-suited one.

At the conclusion of the meal Santa and Mrs. Claus then proceeded to hand out the toys. In addition to a toy, each child also received a blanket.

While the toy giveaway was limited to children aged 0 to fifth grade, all in attendance were eligible to win a door prize with each receiving a ticket. Throughout the event, DJ E-Z-E drew out tickets of those winning Walmart gift cards.

“Everyone gets put in the pot for the drawings so those older than fifth grade can get a prize,” said Mitchell.

While Mitchell was the central figure in overseeing the activities of Winterfest, she said the effort is community wide.

“This could not happen without community help and volunteers because I can’t do it all by myself. We raise all the money through community support. So it’s all based upon donations, local businesses and things like that,” she said. “I handle all the paperwork part, write gants to get more money and that kind of thing and I do all the purchasing and stuff. I used to wrap all the gifts by myself, too, but it was just a nightmare.”

Among the volunteers helping to relieve Mitchell of the wrapping nightmare this year are the Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) club at LCHS. The Lincoln County High School cheerleaders and coach Amy Bastin also jumped in to assist in Winterfest.

“This year the Lincoln County HIgh School Cheerleaders are our volunteers. They helped decorate and are helping serve. And the FBLA kids wrap all the presents for us every year,” said Mitchell. “The kids love to give back. The kids love to be a part in this. I think it’s kind of a mentoring thing as well. They see how blessed they really are when they work this program.”

Also helping to carry off Winterfest are the high school cafeteria staff and Lincoln County High School administration.

“I couldn’t do it without them (lunchroom staff). They prepare a wonderful hot meal,” said Mitchell. “And the school lets me buy the food at what they can buy the food so that saves me a little bit of money.”

And the food provided Winterfest was traditional holiday fare of turkey and dressing and all the trimmings, with dessert provided by Dairy Queen.

“It’s not a meal by school regulations because it’s not a school day,” Mitchell said. “We wanted to make sure we could provide them a hot Christmas meal outside of the school day.”

As the last child waved goodbye after Winterfest, Mitchell had a satisfied smile on her face.

“We do this just to help families that need a little help this Christmas because we all need a little help sometimes. I’ve been there,” she said. “I feel like, even if we just help a few families, we’re doing something that’s good.”