Northeast Hazel Dell Holiday Party delights excited kids, families

By Susan Parrish, Columbian education reporter



Northeast Hazel Dell Holiday Party

Event nickname: Bud’s Party, after Bud Van Cleve, president of the Northeast Hazel Dell Neighborhood Association, who started the event.

Bud’s Party by the numbers

Years held: 15.

Christmas trees: 6, donated by Yard ’n Garden Land.

Bikes with helmets: 41, donated by Waste Connections.

Volunteers: 80-100.

Gifts distributed: 400-500.

Pioneer Choir: 60 students singing Christmas songs.

Cases of fruit: 20, donated by Chuck’s Produce, Safeway, Fred Meyer.

Food boxes: 55, most donated by Sunshine Division/Clark County Food Bank.

Pictures with Santa: Mark Delacy and Catfish Photography.

Gallons of hot chocolate: 20, donated by Burgerville.

Chocolate chip cookies: 864 donated by McDonald’s.

Soccer and basketballs: 60 donated by Blind Onion Pizza.

Kids’ books: 800 donated by Goodwill Job Connections.

Toothbrushes and dental care kits: 200 donated by Smiles Dental.

Forty-one shiny new bikes, from a masculine black and red "Rock It" Huffy to a pink Huffy dotted with pink and purple flowers, lined the hallway at Sarah J. Anderson Elementary Thursday night. A helmet dangled from the handlebars of each bike.

Outside on the school's sidewalk, hundreds of excited kids with moms, dads and grandparents waited in line for the doors to open for the 15th annual Northeast Hazel Dell Holiday Party.

Bud Van Cleeve, the neighborhood leader who founded the party, was recovering from a recent illness and was unable to attend. "Mr. Hazel Dell," as Van Cleeve has been nicknamed, was missed by his fellow neighborhood leaders, Doug Ballou and Vicki Fitzsimmons, event co-chairs. Ballou, Fitzsimmons and an army of other volunteers spent the past six months planning the party for neighborhood kids and their families.

Donated goodies read like a list from the man in red at the North Pole: 800 children's books, 60 sports balls, 20 gallons of hot chocolate, 864 chocolate chip cookies and between 400 and 500 wrapped gifts.

Man in red

Families waited in a long line so their children could visit with Santa and get their photograph taken with him. Ludwin and Lidia Estrada stood with their children, Hazabel, 7, Andrea, 6, and Oscar, 3, waiting to

see Santa. It's the third year the family had attended the party.

"My two girls go to this school," said Lidia Estrada. "Today they said, 'Tonight! The party's tonight!'"

When it was their turn to see Santa, Andrea and Hazabel hurried over and stood on either side of him. But Oscar climbed into his dad's arms.

"He didn't want to see Santa last year either," Ludwin said. Then he asked, "Are you sure, Buddy? Santa's not scary."

Oscar didn't agree. He didn't even glance toward Santa. Instead, his busy fingers spun the wheels of his new toy truck.

Omar Valencia, 7, and Christian Ortiz, 5, stood in line for their chance to see Santa. Nibbling on a chocolate chip cookie, Christian shook the wrapped gift with his other hand.

"It's Legos!" he said, adding that he doesn't have any Legos at home.

Their turn to see Santa

It was the family's turn to see Santa. Omar and Christian hopped right over to Santa. Mom Linda Mendoza pulled a pink stocking cap over Daisy Garcia's head and took her by the hand toward Santa. But the 3-year-old Daisy refused to grant the jolly old elf an audience.

Sisters Sahara Pittman, 5, wearing a pink flower in her hair, and Keira Pittman, 2, wearing an orange flower, hurried over to Santa while their grandpa, Craig Edmonds, waited, smiling. Keira climbed onto Santa's lap, turned toward him and told him exactly what she wanted: "Toys!"

Then she grabbed the bell in Santa's hand and rang it, jumped from his lap and turned and waved goodbye.

"The community is very generous," said Edmonds. "Our next stop is hot chocolate!"

Then he followed his granddaughters across the crowded gym.

Boys of all ages, some brothers, some pals, bounced their new basketballs on the gym floor. Others clutched footballs under their arms. All of them grinned.

Some of the kids from the party's early years now volunteer by wrapping gifts, said Fitzsimmons.

"What a wonderful gift!" said Debra Hale, the school's principal, hugging organizer Ballou. "A lot of hard-working people give to our kids in our community."

The school received 55 boxes of donated food to distribute to needy Sarah J. Anderson families.

"It's a blessing to pass that along to the families who need it," Hale said.

Fire cadets stood at the ready to help fit bike helmets for the lucky kids who received a bike in the drawing.

First-time volunteers Laurel Collins and Kathy Werres, were helping families sign up for the drawing to receive a decorated Christmas tree. The women live near the school and saw the appeal for volunteers in the neighborhood association newsletter.

Will they be back next year?

"Yes!" both women chimed together.

Cristian Avendano, 9, sat in a chair, holding a book he'd chosen and his wrapped gift. Unlike most of the other hundreds of kids, Cristian hadn't yet opened his gift.

"I'll open it later," the Eisenhower Elementary student said, cradling the gift on his lap.