BERKELEY – There was food, gifts, song and dance, but the real star of the show was Santa Claus. At least, that’s what the kids thought.
For the grown-ups in the room, the real stars were the kids.
Every year, the Silver Ridge Park West Clubhouse is filled with dozens of preschool children. Off to the sidelines are dozens more seniors of the community, who give the kids a day to celebrate, and watch as their eyes light up.
There were 37 kids ages 3-5 from surrounding communities like Brick, Beachwood, Manchester, and Lakewood, said Meg Saunders, Vice President of Children’s Services for O.C.E.A.N., Inc. The kids were enrolled in Manchester Head Start, which provides early childhood development for low-income families.
And every one of them have “most definitely” been looking forward to this day, she said.
Vivian Evanchik, who oversees this party every year, has been visiting the class and reading to them every week. Now it was time for them to visit her.
“I got a present from Santa!” said Harlem, 4. It was a Lion King toy. What did he do that put him on the good list? “I played with my own toys,” instead of playing with someone else’s, he said.
He was sitting with Elizabeth, also 4. They were just finishing up their dessert of fruit and cake, which followed after pasta, meatballs, bread and pizza. They were competing to see who was sillier.
Interweaving between the kids were high school students from Donovan Catholic’s National Honor Society. A busload of them come every year to help.
Larissa Scheck, the school’s National Honor Society Advisor, said 14 teens came out. They helped with the gift donations as well. They get service hours for it, but they are “excited to do this every year.”
Some of them quickly bonded with the little ones.
“They just made these connections,” she said.
Music teacher Devin Mullen led the songs and entertainment. “It just feels good to give back,” she said. At one point, she and Santa had the seniors compete with the kids to see who could sing louder. It was unclear who the winner was.
Her children also helped in the entertainment. Two of them, Olivia and Autymn, had adopted one of the high school kids, Sydney Krajczewski.
The president of the school’s NHS, Krajczewski said this was her first year attending the event. What struck her is how little things can make them so happy. Even getting some candy makes them thrilled.
When they were told they would get a chance to sit on Santa’s lap if they wanted, there were audible gasps throughout the room.
The first present they all got was a stuffed Olaf from the “Frozen” movies. It was a testament to the kids – or perhaps how well they respected “Miss Vivian” and their teachers – that they waited until everyone had a bag before opening it and seeing what was inside.
Every item was donated by local merchants and residents. Some lent their time and talent, sewing items for the kids, Evanchik said. The giving didn’t stop there. Any leftover food was packaged for seniors in need.
For her efforts, Evanchik was given flowers from the Friendship Circle, volunteers who help with this and other projects.