Perhaps shining even brighter than the Christmas lights going up these days in homes around the country were the smiles on the faces of children at Saturday's annual Children's Christmas Celebration as they opened their gifts.
In its seventh year, the event is coordinated by G. Smith Motorsports and the St. Rose Travel Center, aiming to spread holiday cheer to local children. Each year, they receive gifts, can participate in arts and crafts and even take a photo with Santa Claus himself.
According to Glen Smith of Glen Smith Motorsports, nearly 800 children participated at this year’s celebration, which was held at the Jerusalem Shrine Center in Destrehan.
A host of volunteers gave out about 800 gifts, many of those helpers dressed for the occasion, with reindeer and gift boxes as part of the costumes.
“Everyone really got into the Christmas spirit,” Smith said. “We like to bring some of the motor sports stuff out and add some glitz and glamor to the outfit. It’s all about seeing the kids have a nice holiday.”
Those volunteers are motivated by the same desire to help that those who established the event sought in its origin. “You see a lot on TV and the children who need things worldwide. Locally, though, you also see families and children who aren’t where they need to be in terms of holidays. We wanted to put something together for them … we have a great group of people who come in to volunteer and it’s because of their efforts that we’re able to do this.”
The event, Smith says, keeps growing by the year.
“We’ve found that there are a lot more families out there that needed the same thing. We’ll just keep continuing,” Smith said. “Today, we can cross the 800 mark. It keeps getting bigger. It’s a way to give back to the community and we think it’s a good deal all the way around.
St. Charles Parish President Larry Cochran also made an appearance at the event to lend his support.
“I was humbled to attend the Children’s Christmas Celebration held by G.Smith Motorsports and the St. Rose Travel Center," Cochran said. "These types of charitable events put on by our businesses and residents make living in this parish special, especially during the holidays and I think the hundreds of kids who received toys, met Santa and enjoyed activities would agree.”
Siblings Terion and Terence Mitchell of Ama were among the many children who got in on the fun.
“They love it,” said their mother, Shanique Morgan. “They couldn’t wait to open it. Everything was very nice. The food was lovely.”
There were 670 children who officially registered to receive gifts, those forms used in part to personalize the presents to each child.
“Santa really brought what they wanted,” Smith said. He estimated another 75 children were not registered, but were still able to participate.
“My kids weren’t on the list, but I really appreciate that they were each able to get a gift,” Morgan said. “Everything was so organized and neat.”
She added with a laugh, “The food was lovely. I could sit here all day and eat that rice. Now we’re ready to go home and enjoy the rest of the day.”
Smith said that G. Smith Motorsports is involved with multiple events like this annually, each aimed at helping children. In all, he estimates the events helps 1,400 children each year.