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Winterfest hosts local children, families at annual Christmas party

STANFORD — Some local families got to visit with Santa a bit early this year and the younger children all got to take home a Christmas gift.

Lincoln County schools closed Friday for the winter break, but the Lincoln County High School cafeteria was rife with activity Monday afternoon as the Winterfest Program hosted its annual Christmas party.

Around 220 families took part in the holiday tradition and each child from 0 years old to fifth grade received a gift from Santa and Mrs. Claus.

“In my job (Lincoln County Community Engagement Coordinator), I try to do things for the students that are outside the classroom,” said Kendra Mitchell, who is in her 10th year as Winterfest Chairperson. “The whole thing for me is to give them the Christmas experience with Santa, with the Christmas music, and the hot holiday meal in case they don’t have that experience at home. And I love watching the smiles on their faces when they open their toys.”

And that is what Winterfest is all about. Peggy Hubbard started the annual program to raise money for toys back in the 1980’s because she wanted to make sure that every child had a happy Christmas.

Mitchell, who starts raising money for Winterfest in September, said the holiday party is an invitation-only event.

“We start getting the names in October and then we start sending out letters in November to the different families,” she said. “We invite everybody. We tell them to bring their grandparents, bring anybody for the meal. When they register, they actually register how many adults so we know how many to feed.”

Those attending the 2019 Winterfest party were greeted by strains of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” and other Christmas tunes as they entered the cafeteria, with the younger children stopping to look over all the wrapped gifts as they made their way to a table.

In past Winterfest events, children did not always finish their holiday meals, with the arrival of Santa and Mrs. Claus prompting them to leave the table to sneak away for an early visit.

On Monday, Mitchell waited until the children had finished their meals to summon the Clauses into the cafeteria. The holiday meal featuring turkey and dressing was prepared by the LCHS lunchroom staff with Dairy Queen ice cream treats and banana pudding for dessert. 

Santa and Mrs. Claus proceeded to hand out toys until every child had a gift in hand.

The toys were limited to children in fifth grade or younger, but all in attendance had the opportunity to leave with a prize, with every adult and teenager receiving a door prize ticket. The door prizes included $10 Walmart gift cards and a games package (Scrabble, Sorry, etc.).

Mitchell was slightly downhearted that there weren’t as many children at the 2019 Winterfest party as in the past. She said 400 letters were sent out to families.

“A lot of times a lot of these same families are getting help through churches or Angel Tree projects and sometimes they don’t feel right coming to more than one Christmas assistance program,” she said. “So sometimes that hurts the attendance even though I tell them that this is different because we want to feed their family and give them a Christmas experience and that they could still come. It didn’t matter if they were on another list. We’re trying to get that word out that it’s okay if you’ve already gone to something else, you can still come to this.”

While Mitchell is the person overseeing the coordinating of the Winterfest event, she says it takes a community to make it a success.

“It couldn’t happen without the community because all of the monetary donations come from the community. All of the volunteers come from the community or the schools. Our FBLA kids always wrap all the presents,” she said. “The Lincoln cheerleaders are a big help and we had some college students that worked with (Winterfest) all through high school to come back. They are home for Christmas and they contacted me and asked if they could help.”

“I’m just merely the person in the middle that orchestrates it. It could never happen without all the different pieces. I want everybody to know that there are so many people that help.”