Kids in need get their own party

Angelica, 9, skipped to her mom, cheeks sparkling with glitter, lips shining from gloss, and said, "Mom, I got a makeover!"

She beamed with her new look and pulled at her mom to explore the rest of what the Sharing the Holiday Spirit Party at South Coast Plaza had to offer Friday.

The Newport Beach girl had already taken a picture with Santa Claus and received a gift bag, and as she peered down the Sears wing of the mall at the 60 tables covered in different activities, her options seemed endless.

She was one of an expected 600 underprivileged kids from across Orange County brought to the mall after the shops had closed to partake in an evening of holiday celebration.

Hosted by the charitable groups Happiness Project and the Festival of Children, the holiday party offered the kids a picture with Santa, gift bags, carousel rides, crafts, games, food and music.

Sandy Segerstrom Daniels, founder of the Festival of Children Foundation and managing partner of South Coast Plaza, said the night was all about "helping kids have a nice Christmas."

Craig and Lindsay Dickhout, who founded the Happiness Project, started the South Coast Plaza holiday event six years ago with fewer than 20 youngsters. Over the years, interest in the event has exploded, with 500 children attending in 2012 and many more expected this season.

"They get to come here and feel special for a night," Craig Dickhout said of the kids. "They get to see Santa Claus, they get to have a nice meal, they get to bring home a great gift."

As the youngsters entered the mall, they were paired with one of 390 volunteers. They drank hot chocolate and listened to carolers from the Orange County School of the Arts as they waited in line for their picture with Santa Claus.

Gift bags pegged to the different age groups and genders were given out. The bags contained stuffed animals and other toys, as well as necessities like clothes, blankets and toothbrushes.

Instead of ripping open the gifts on the spot, Daniels said, many of the kids "take their presents home and open them on Christmas Day."

Nyrel, 8, of Irvine had her nose painted red like Rudolph's and said she was saving her gift for Christmas. Her favorite part of the night was the face painting.

Volunteers put together a collection of crafts and games to entertain the children and joined them in decorating cookies, creating holiday cards, playing with an Xbox One, making bracelets and participating in games for prizes.

Ethan Swartz, 9, of Newport Beach manned the Lego table as a volunteer. As a self-proclaimed "Lego-master," he helped the visiting children build little rocking horses, pirates and race cars that they could take home.

For the volunteers and sponsors, the night was all about helping the children forget about their worries for a while.

Fourth-time volunteer Brian Meza, 21, of Westminster was matched up with siblings Alex, Jose and Paolo, 15, 8 and 7, respectively, of Santa Ana.

Meza said his favorite part of the night was "just looking at the children smile ... being there and knowing they are having a good time."

That image of children smiling was echoed by volunteer after volunteer.

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