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Kids Day lifts holiday spirit for 450 children

By Staff
Clif Knight, Hartselle Enquirer
John F. Thompson American Legion Post 52 and its auxiliary played Santa for more than 450 children of needy parents at Kids Day in Hartselle on Friday. The 57th annual event was staged in the Sparkman Civic Center Auditorium.
Each of the participants received an individually wrapped gift from Santa and a bag of fruit and candy. They represented kindergarten through fourth grade classes at elementary schools in Hartselle, Falkville, Danville, Ryan, Cotaco, Sparkman and Falkville.
As the children were arriving from their respective schools, Jaylynn Milligan, a Wal-Mart employee, entertained with his rendition of several Christmas carols.
"Our sponsors were very generous this year and that made it possible for us to put a little more into each gift and to include Ryan Elementary School," said Mark Cleek, chairman of the Legion's Kids Day committee. "We got a $2,000 check today from Wal-Mart in Hartselle. It will give us a headstart on next year. Our goal is to be able to add fifth graders to our Christmas gift list next year."
He thanked Legionnaires, auxiliary members, senior members of Hartselle High's baseball team and Judy Praytor's healthcare class at Hartselle High for providing volunteers to wrap gifts and to help distribute them. "I don't know what we'd do if we didn't have so many good people to help out each year," he stated.
"I want to thank everybody who helped this year," said post commander Paul Johnson. "It's always a joy for us to bring Christmas cheer to children of families who need help. Just to see the smiles on the faces of the kids makes it all worthwhile."
"It's the highlight event of the year for both post members and the auxiliary," said Estelle Smith. "It has really grown over the years and Mark Cleek is doing a good job of heading it up."
"Kids Day is something they look forward to all year long," said Revenia Thompson, Title I reading instructor at Danville-Neel Elementary School. "They get so excited. It's a joy to see their eyes light up when their name is called to come up and get their gift from Santa."
Matt Stiles, counselor for Ryan and Priceville Elementary and Middle Schools, added, "These are kids whose parents can't afford to go to the mall and buy expensive gifts to put under a Christmas tree. They would get little or nothing if it wasn't for programs like this."
"It feels very rewarding to give something back to the community," baseball player and Santa helper Chris Russell said .
"It brings tears to my eyes to know that we're doing something to help kids who need help," said Heather Little, a HHS healthcare class member. I think it's a fantastic program and I'm proud to be a small part of it."