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Santa, Mrs. Claus brighten holiday

Saturday, November 24, 2012

FORT SCOTT, Kan. -- For local resident Jim Walker, his participation in the Fort Scott Ladies of the Elk organization's annual Children's Christmas Party is all about the children.

Walker, a longtime member of the Fort Scott Elks Lodge No. 579, and his wife, Vickie, have portrayed Santa and Mrs. Claus for the last several years during the annual event, which provides Christmas gifts for needy children in the area who would not otherwise receive them.

"When kids get the gifts, their eyes light up," Jim said. "That's probably the biggest motivation for me, is seeing the happiness in the child's face."

This year's party, set for Dec. 15 at the Elks Lodge, will include lunch, photos with Santa and goody bags and various holiday activities for the children.

Ladies of the Elk President Marjorie Schwalm said some area families have already called about the annual event, which she said is in the planning stages.

The event has been in existence for "easily 15 to 18 years now," Schwalm said.

"It used to be much smaller, but the need seems to be so much bigger out there now," she said.

Schwalm said she gets help putting the event on from local resident Amy Boyd and other Ladies of the Elk members.

"Amy is wonderful," Schwalm said. "And the people are very generous."

Boyd makes picture frames in different shapes using construction paper, and then each child colors and decorates the frame as they choose.

"While kids are waiting for dinner and the party, they get a goody bag, then they eat lunch and the kids get their picture taken in front of the Christmas tree and can take the framed picture home with them," Schwalm said.

Schwalm said residents and businesses donate money and gifts for the festivities.

Ladies of the Elk members will pick up the slack if there are not enough donations from the community to meet the need.

"We try to get each child three gifts," she said. "The Thursday before the party we sort everything by child and gifts are picked for the individual child. Some will spend the whole evening sorting and wrapping gifts."

Organizers and volunteers obtain the names of each family and child, as well as the child's age, and then determine a suitable gift.

Schwalm said she uses her long-standing community ties to choose children and families who benefit from the event each year.

"The names are referred to me from different daycare centers, sometimes the schools," she said. "As a mail carrier for 30 years, I knew families myself that needed help."

Schwalm said the event is designed to support The Beacon's annual Adopt-A-Child program.

"It helps The Beacon with overflow and kids they couldn't get to during the holidays," she said.

Last year, 85 area children and their families enjoyed a brighter Christmas due to the efforts of the Fort Scott Ladies of the Elk organization and the community.

Walker, an Elks member since 1969, said he began portraying St. Nick several years ago, then took a hiatus due to some health problems and is now "back in it again."

Walker said he participates to help provide an experience for children they may not otherwise get to enjoy.

"Some of us have been fortunate to have good jobs and make good livings and provide for children," he said. "It's motivation, I guess. There are a lot of people out there that struggle. Some of us with the wherewithal can provide some help."

Walker said the success of the Children's Christmas Party and other events the Elks Lodge supports throughout the year is not credited to any one person, but rather teamwork and several members stepping up to take on projects.

"We help raise money in different ways," he said. "Sometimes when funds are short, Elks members chip in. It isn't a one-man show; we all work together."

Schwalm said area businesses and organizations that help out in the effort include the Kansas Rocks Recreation Park near Mapleton, which donates several toys, and various local banks that have drop-off points for gifts.

"Some local businesses are very kind and will make a donation to us," she said.

Schwalm is a busy woman during the holiday season, being heavily involved with organizing the annual Community Thanksgiving Dinner at the Elks Lodge.

"In November and December, I don't sleep for two months," she joked. "Then when it's all over, it's quiet for awhile."

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