Smiles were a big part of the Santa Pal program Saturday morning at the old First Baptist Church building, 204 N. Main St.
Barbara Burtchell , chairman of the Temple Kiwanis Club outreach, said the community joined in providing Christmas gifts for 365 children in 172 families. Kiwanis Club members and a host of other volunteers, some of them wearing Santa caps or reindeer antlers, passed out bags of footballs, toy trucks, coloring books, doll houses and teddy bears.
“I really have a lot of volunteers,” Burtchell said, from PSI, Carlson Law Firm and the Junior League of Bell County. “They all shopped and are here volunteering. That enabled us to fill a lot of these bags.”
The late Frank W. Mayborn, longtime publisher and owner of the Temple Daily Telegram, started Santa Pal about 80 years ago. Burtchell has been leading the program since the Temple Kiwanis Club took over 21 years ago.
In October, parents give a Christmas wish list to the Help Center/Hill Country Community Action Association, which passes the lists to Santa Pal, she said.
A lot of toys were donated by Ludwick Montgomery & Stapp Certified Public Accountants, she said, and PSI gave two large bags of toys. A woman gave $1,000, and Santa Pal bought 21 bicycles from Academy Sports + Outdoors.
“They gave us a special price, and we’re planning to go to them again next year,” Burtchell said.
Gary Southerland, Kiwanis president, worked alongside the other volunteers.
“The biggest thing is the Christmas spirit of the community, looking out for these kids, and people being willing to accept a little help so their kids can have a better Christmas,” he said. “The community has been very generous.”
Charlene Thompson, a Help Center receptionist and one of the volunteers, said she does this every year.
“I love it,” she said. “I look forward to it. It makes my heart smile, just helping others.”
Steve Jones, a Kiwanis volunteer, said Santa Pal is all about the children.
“It’s for a good cause, and it’s fun,” he said. “It makes you feel good about yourself. There’s nothing like a shiny bicycle underneath the tree. I remember when I was a kid it was the coolest thing in the world.”
Fay Grenier and Jennifer Duran, both employees at PSI, said they’ve volunteered with Santa Pal several times.
“It’s a great opportunity to help,” Grenier said. “I love seeing people come in, especially when they have their kids and they’re so excited.”
Jerry Jones, a Kiwanis board member, said he’s helped with the program for many years. Smiles and the excitement in the air about Christmas is what it’s all about, he said.
“You can already imagine the smiles on the kids’ faces when they get these presents,” he said.
His granddaughter, Ava Navarro, a seventh-grader at North Belton Middle School, helped pass out the bags of gifts . She said it was her first time at Santa Pal and she would volunteer again.
Southerland said any bags of toys not picked up Saturday would be taken to the Help Center.
“People will be able to follow up that didn’t make it in today,” he said. “Hopefully, that’s only a handful.”