2,000 kids find the thrill of the (Easter egg) hunt

Church super-sizes its annual event to reach community

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20,000 plastic eggs

2,000 hunters

2.5 acres

100 volunteers

Leroy Santiago of Vancouver stood in the middle of the windswept east Vancouver field Saturday and raised the bullhorn to his lips.

Around him, hundreds of slightly-smaller-than-average human hearts beat slightly faster than usual.

“How many eggs?” Santiago shouted.

“FIFTEEN!” the children lining the fences around him screamed.

“If you find a golden egg, know what you do?” Santiago said. “Get happy! And see me.”

Twenty yards to Santiago’s right, Steve Livengood of Washougal, his jacket wrapped against the rain, bellowed into his own bullhorn.

“I think we’re seeing who the true Northwesterners are!” Livengood said.

Finally, with a countdown, Santiago and Livengood gave the signal, and hundreds of children ages 2 to 11 sprinted forward in search of the first 15 plastic eggs they could grab, kicking off LifePoint Church’s biggest public Easter egg hunt yet.

Growing event

The church’s regular attendees have held the hunt for years, said Rich Wood, LifePoint’s lead pastor.

But the current, super-size incarnation — 20,000 plastic eggs, 2,000 attendees and 100 church volunteers — is an attempt by Wood and LifePoint children’s pastor Jeff Miles to serve the wider community while reaching more non-churchgoers.

“This is a place where they can come, feel safe,” said Wood, who’s led the church since 2006.

20,000 plastic eggs

2,000 hunters

2.5 acres

100 volunteers

While Miles took the sanctuary stage to explain the rules of Saturday’s hunt, young mothers leaned against the Starbucks-branded coffee bar in the church hallway and watched his address on the closed-circuit flat-screen TV.

“Be nice to other egg hunters,” Miles instructed the crowd. “There’s a 15-egg limit.”

In each of the two fields, volunteers had scattered thousands of eggs. Some had chocolates, some quarters or dollar coins, some plastic toys.

And in each field, they’d also hidden a golden egg, worth one $50 gift certificate to Walmart.

Anticipation

Waiting for Santiago to sound the signal Saturday, Sean Vasquez-Higgins of Camas, 9, announced that he knew exactly where the gold egg was.

“Just went and scoped it out,” he said confidently. “It was actually pretty easy to find.”

Two hours earlier, in the first of the day’s two hunts, Sean’s brother Juan had found one of the gold eggs, so Sean knew what they looked like.

Meanwhile, Miles’ daughter Aubrey paced back and forth, keeping the line of eager children from creeping too far from the fence.

“I’m sorry, could you move back please?” she coolly asked a cluster of boys, who obeyed.

Aubrey, 12, said she loves the event. “It’s a lot of work putting the egg hunt on, but it’s worth seeing the smiles on the kids’ faces,” she explained.

After 15 minutes’ waiting, hundreds of children surged across the field, leaving their parents nervously craning their necks from the fence line.

As children scooped up hundreds of normal pastel shells, the search for the gold egg went on for three minutes. Then three more.

Santiago began to shout clues.

“It’s on this side of me!” he said, gesturing upfield. Then, later: “It’s near one of the posts!”

Finally, a call went up: someone had found it, near one of the posts. It was Sean Vasquez-Higgins.

Happy winners

Beaming with pride a few minutes later, Sean said the egg that had looked gold from a distance had turned out to be yellow. But he’d kept looking, he said, and lucked out.

He’d use the prize to buy a new pair of shoes, Sean said. He wasn’t sure what kind.

Sayler Sanne, 7, of Olympia, had found the other gold egg, tucked in a hole in the middle of the other field. She was in town to visit her cousins for Easter.

Sean’s mother, Lynn Higgins of Camas, said their family usually went to an egg hunt in Woodland, but that she’d decided to stay closer to home this year after seeing an ad on Craigslist for the LifePoint event.

As families streamed out of the church, some planning to return for today’s service, the volunteers relaxed, ducking into a back room for lunch.

Miles said he was certain there’d been enough volunteers keeping watch that morning to prevent any foul play.

“A lot of kids say they’re going to find it,” Miles said. “It just happens that one of them’s gonna be right.”

Michael Andersen: 360-735-4508 or michael.andersen@columbian.com.