By Brooke Robichaux; L"Observateur
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Published 12:15 am Wednesday, December 6, 2017
DESTREHAN — Approximately 200 underprivileged children experienced holiday cheer at the 10th annual Children’s Christmas Celebration hosted Saturday by GSmith Motorsports and St. Rose Travel Center at the Jerusalem Shrine Temple in Destrehan.
River Parishes children came dressed in holiday clothes, eager to receive presents, take a picture with Santa in his sleigh, create arts and crafts and enjoy a complimentary lunch.
Glen D. Smith, co-owner of GSmith Motorsports and the Magnolia Companies of Louisiana, said the event was created to take care of children who otherwise wouldn’t get to enjoy a traditional holiday experience.
One of the attendees shared a “thank you” letter with organizers.
Over the past 10 years, the event has reached 3,700 children in St. Charles, St. John the Baptist and St. James parishes.
“It’s fortunate and unfortunate,” Smith said. “It’s fortunate that we can do this but unfortunate that they need it.”
Smith said invitations were sent out to families identified as being in need this holiday season.
“We put information through social services and the parishes, and they feed us back information,” Smith said. “That’s the most difficult part about doing this: figuring out who needs it.”
He said the invitation system has been helpful because the Children’s Christmas Celebration functioned more as a toy giveaway in early years. Now coordinators have peace of mind that the gifts and Santa experiences have proper impacts.
Those who were invited but unable to attend will have presents delivered to them, Smith said, adding each child generally receives five to six gifts.
Smith said GSmith Motorsports and St. Rose Travel Center staff members purchase all presents.
“We supply all the gifts, and some of our employees actually shop all year long to provide them,” Smith said.
This year, more than 470 gifts were collected for underprivileged children of all ages.
St. Rose Travel Center representative Angela Setters has helped coordinate the Children’s Christmas Celebration since 2011, and she views the event as a great opportunity to give back to a community where she grew up.
She said the most rewarding aspect was seeing huge smiles appear on children’s faces as they received presents and excitedly greeted Santa Claus as he climbed out of a fire truck.
“To reach the children is so touching,” Setters said. “For some of them, it might be the only gift they get this Christmas. They rely on adults for everything in life, and the parents themselves are in a time of need.”
She said children and families were grateful for services provided.
“They are very receiving, very loving,” Setters said. “The children’s smiles show unconditional love. All they know is unconditional love.”
According to executive assistant Leigh Hallas, St. Rose Travel Center and GSmith Motorsports are divisions of The Magnolia Companies of Louisiana, also owned by Glenn Smith and his brother, Gary Smith.
Hallas said GSmith Motorsports participates in various philanthropic efforts for the company.
On the Saturday before Thanksgiving, the GSmith Motorsports crew distributed 150 Thanksgiving baskets to families in partnership with groups in St. John the Baptist, St. James and St. Charles parishes.
Thanksgiving goodies were distributed to families in St. John the Baptist, St. James and St. Charles parishes.
St. Joan of Arc Church in LaPlace, Sacred Heart Church in Norco and the St. James Parish Sheriff’s Office Fleet Operations station in Vacherie supplied GSmith representatives with names of families struggling with food insecurity.
“It’s so incredible to come out here, to visit with people in our own community and partnering with community leaders to make all of this happen,” Smith said. “It’s incredible. It’s a real privilege for us to execute this kind of outreach.”
Smith said working with children is important to him and the rest of the GSmith staff, and their next project is to donate 300 teddy bears to children confined to a hospital bed for Christmas.
They are particularly passionate about hosting a prom for terminally ill children each April, an event Smith described as heart wrenching yet rewarding.