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Children Squeal as Big Kids Try On Santa Caps

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

With her new 5-year-old friend, Orlando, riding high on her shoulders, Wendy Hatfield weaved through the crowded Pacifica High School gym during a wild and emotional holiday party Tuesday for 160 local elementary school students.

Wearing her blue-and-white cheerleading uniform, Wendy, 17, said it was a party she will not soon forget.

“I’m so happy to see these kids’ faces,” she said. “They’re so excited it makes you want to cry.”

Wendy spoke amid squeals of surprise and joy echoing through the gym, as the children, many of whom are disadvantaged and handicapped, opened gifts from the school’s seniors during the sixth annual Adopt-A-Child holiday bash.

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Throughout the eagerly awaited party, 260 seniors distributed gifts that they and the high school’s other grades bought for the children.

While Orlando--decked out in a furry red-and-white Santa’s hat resting askew on his head--told Wendy that that he liked all his presents, he was especially pleased with his new Teen-age Mutant Ninja Turtle doll.

Wendy returned his smile and later said she will always remember the moment when Orlando tore open the wrapping paper. “His eyes were real big, and his smile was real big,” she said. “It was wonderful. It was better than getting a gift.”

Orlando was one of 157 children--97 kindergarten pupils from Clinton Elementary School and the rest from Mendenhall TMR, a special education school--who attended the event, which featured a visit from Santa Claus, at least four gifts for each visitor, candy and cookies.

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“It is absolutely the ultimate in Christmas spirit,” Clinton teacher Betty Keith said. “These kids are in high school and about to graduate, but they take so much interest in these children.”

Keith added that children have been eagerly anticipating the party. As she looked out over hundreds of children racing through the gym, chasing one another with squirt guns and footballs in hand, she said: “I think they’re overwhelmed with it. For some of the children, this is their Christmas.”

When the two-hour party began, the children, holding hands to form human chains, walked single file into the gym as seniors with cameras flashing and videotape rolling recorded the tykes’ wide-eyed surprise. Inside, several hundred wrapped presents lined the bleachers and crowded beneath a 6-foot evergreen tree decorated with colored ornaments and tinsel.

As soon as the gifts were unwrapped, footballs, basketballs, flying discs and model planes started to arc through the air, often missing their marks. One miniature biplane smacked a newspaper photographer between the eyes; a stray foam football bounced off the head of a school administrator, who grinned and tossed it back.

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Children weaved between others riding tricycles, while some fired ray guns emitting flashes and high-pitched whines.

In front of the gym, Mendenhall student James Duong, 8, practiced his baseball swing with his new plastic bat. From 10 feet away, Bobby De Pippo, 17, tossed a ball with an enthusiastic, “Here it comes!” and James swatted the ball past his partner, shouting: “Home run!”

Standing amid heaps of ripped wrapping paper, Meaghan Brooks, 6, said the event made her happy.

“I got presents--a toy soldier, a little doll, a little mermaid,” she said.

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As Meaghan spoke, her benefactor, Cory Kloss, 17, smiled and added: “Everybody’s having fun. It’ll be sad when they leave.”

Melanie Coch, 17, said the party was “really fun. I like to see little kids. They’re having such a good time. The simplest things make them so happy. They keep saying, ‘Is this mine? Is this mine too ?’ ”

She added that “I had to do this because I have so much” that many of the children who attended don’t have.

Melanie noted that the event is so emotionally rewarding that some graduates have returned to their alma mater to participate again.

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“I’ve been looking forward to this since I was a freshman,” she said. “It’s something everyone has been looking forward to for a long time.”


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