Almost 400 underprivileged children and their families from throughout Maryville, Alcoa and Blount County enjoyed aPolar Express Christmas party at First Baptist Church of Maryville on Wednesday, Dec. 15.
The ROCStars Christmas program was organized by the church’s Reaching Our Community (ROC) group. The children from ages birth to 18 got to do crafts, enjoy cupcakes, hear the Christmas story and get gifts during the event.
“It was wonderful,” said ROC program director Carol Lucas. “We had the best time. I don’t know that anybody left who didn’t enjoy themselves. “For the volunteers and folks who came, it was a huge, huge blessing.”
Lucas said the children and teens came from the three local school systems. “We partnered with the family resource centers at Alcoa City Schools, Maryville City Schools and Blount County School System to identify kids who have needs in the community,” she said. “Once they identified the kids, they sent home wish lists for the kids to fill out, and we find sponsors to help get their wishes. They may not get every wish but we try to make sure they get at least something they asked for.”
The program coordinator said there were 380 children or teens participating, down from 423 in 2009. “The reason it was less is I don’t think some of the schools sent as many applications because they were concerned that, with the economy the way it is, we might not be able to find sponsors, but we were blessed,” she said. “We had people come out of the woodwork who wanted to help.”
Lucas said planners start organizing the event and recruiting sponsors in July. The day of the party, groups of 70 to 80 kids and their families came at scheduled times. “They go through and hear the Christmas story, do face-painting, decorate cupcakes, have hot chocolate and do Christmas crafts. They get their gifts as their leaving to go home,” she said. “Families are there from 45 minutes to an hour the day of the event.”
The program coordinator said The Polar Express theme was used to make it fun for the children. “We wanted kids to come in and really have a good time. We have local coaches and local ministers who dress up like conductors and take the kids through all the events. At the end, the conductors punch the kids’ tickets,” Lucas said. “It was all about the kids enjoying themselves.”