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December 26, 2006 > Niles Rotary hosts pizza with Santa

Niles Rotary hosts pizza with Santa

by Sandi Pantages

"This is the best day of my life," said one little boy. A parent told a Niles Rotarian, "This wonderful party is more than I wished for."

On Saturday, December 16, Niles Rotary turned the Social Hall of Centerville Presbyterian Church into a winter wonderland (decorated by Niles Rotarian Al Cunha of Antique Treasurers in Niles) and threw a very special party for the Winter Relief families of the Tri-City Homeless Coalition - the annual Pizza with Santa party.

The party was indeed quite special. Children (and their parents) could have a pony ride around the church parking lot on horses provided by Past Niles Rotary President, Daren Young. A bounce house from Bay Area Jumps was enjoyed by the very active children. When kids weren't riding the horses or between sessions in the bounce house, they were making decorative picture frames for their photos with Santa. As adults helped with the craft project, their socializing was reminiscent of old fashioned quilting bees where the community gathered for social time. The Winter Relief families are like one extended family, since they have been together since November.

For many of these families, the family photo would be the only one they would have this year. One mom, when she heard that there would be a family photo opportunity with Santa, made a quick trip to Target to get new shirts for her two sons for this special photo.

Niles Rotarians donated money for the families' gifts, which were purchased by Judy Zlatnik. Zlatnik had interviewed each family member to determine what they would like for Christmas. The children and their parents received very nice toys, gift cards, much-needed clothing, and other things on their "wish lists." One three-year old made sure that Zlatnik knew that she'd gotten him exactly what he wanted - quite an accomplishment since he'd been quite active and unfocussed in his interview with Zlatnik, and she wasn't real sure what he wanted.

Santa arrived to much acclaim from the children and their parents! Each family posed with Santa for their photo, and then received their gifts, which they could open right away. Children played with their new things and with each other as families continued visiting with one another throughout the morning. As the morning drew to a close, lunch was served - pizza donated by Dan Lewis of Dominoes Pizza on Fremont Blvd..

The Tri Cities Homeless Coalition's Winter Relief Program is a supplement to Sunrise Village and provides overnight housing for about 30 people in families without a place to live during the winter. The families are sheltered overnight in churches in the area - a month in each of several churches from November until April. Dinners are provided by the Centerville Free Dining Room on their regular Tuesday and Thursday nights, and on other days dinners are provided by community volunteers (e.g. church volunteers, Niles Rotary, and other volunteers). After dinner, the families receive services from the Homeless Coalition (e.g. counseling, various skills classes and homework help). In addition, showers are provided at the churches. During the daytime, the children and their parents go to school, work, job seeking, etc., and they return to the host church at night. The families sleep in the social halls or classrooms of their host churches.

Event chairwoman, Niles Rotarian Rose Evernden-Andrade notes that "this is the best thing our Rotary club does in our community - it's my favorite project, and the best day of the year for me." Rose, along with her husband Randy and son Nicholas have worked hard at this event for many years. Several Niles Rotarians bring their children - as Santa's elves - to help at the event.

For families who are working as hard as they can for their children and to get their lives stabilized, Pizza with Santa is a day of being treated in a very special way. It can be "the best day" of their lives. Niles Rotary is proud of "Leading the Way" in sponsoring this event.

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