PRESTONSBURG — A line of 370 children, as well as 253 parents, braved chilly temperatures Thursday evening for a chance to meet Santa Claus and receive a gift, during the Prestonsburg Woman’s Club’s annual Christmas in the Park event at Archer Park.
The 21st annual event, which offers games, snacks and activities, in addition to Santa and his presents, served an almost identical number of children as last year, when 367 children attended.
Judy Howell, who organizes the event for the Prestonsburg Woman’s Club, said the event would not be possible without financial contributions from the City of Prestonsburg, Archer Park and private donors, as well the efforts of dozens of volunteers from the club and Big Sandy Community and Technical College.
“It really means a lot to the children at Christmastime,” Howell said.
The region’s soft economy has made the event even more important, as layoffs in the coal industry have made the financial aspect of the holidays harder to bear for many families.
“I think the recent layoffs in the coal mines are playing role, because many of the children who would normally go to the mall to see Santa are not able to do that,” Howell said. “So they’re staying closer to home. And because Archer Park and the city have everything decorated for Christmas, it’s so festive and it’s lots of fun for the children.
“For some of the children, it’s really the only Christmas party they’re going to go to, where they don’t have any worries. Everything’s free. They don’t have to worry about coming up with a quarter for this or 50 cents for that. Everything is free, through the donations that we receive from the organizations.”
But despite the poor economy, Howell said she hasn’t seen a dip in donations. If anything, she says, people are trying even harder.
“Shockingly enough, because the economy is so bad, everybody realizes it, and everybody who has something is willing to give,” Howell said.
While the children who attended the event were thrilled to leave with a new toy from Santa, Howell said she receives something more from the event.
“As a person who has coordinated this for 15 years, this starts off my Christmas,” Howell said. “This is Christmas.”