Children get an early visit with Santa at annual Christmas in July

Thursday, July 11, 2013 | 9:40 p.m. CDT
The Voluntary Action Center held a Christmas in July event at Missouri United Methodist Church on Thursday in downtown Columbia. Visitors received a free meal, spent time with Santa and could get their hands painted.

COLUMBIA — Bright, shiny balloons adorned every table in the room and pinwheels sat in red vases like flowers. About 75 people walked through double doors in Missouri United Methodist Church to the buffet because the 22nd annual Christmas in July, put on each year by the Voluntary Action Center, had just begun.

“Red and green!” Kaitlyn Hogan, 3, said, as she looked around the room at the balloons.

“Yes, Christmas colors,” her mother, Tammy Hogan, said.

This is Kaitlyn and her mother's first year at Christmas in July, a yearly dinner party for low-income families. Voluntary Action Center, the sponsor, is a local organization that supports low-income families. The Hogans learned of the event through a newsletter from Boone County Family Resources.

Kaitlyn is autistic and just moved with her mother to Ashland for treatment. Hogan said it’s hard for Kaitlyn to come to events like this because of the waiting and the loud atmosphere, but she made it.

Hogan said she’s still getting to know Columbia but that events such as Christmas in July and Boone County Family Resources have been helpful to her.

This was Barb Loch's first year volunteering at Christmas in July. She said she decided to get involved because she loves volunteering and has donated time to Loaves and Fishes Soup Kitchen and Room at the Inn homeless shelter in the past.

Anna Estevez is a veteran of Christmas in July. She said it has probably been 10 years since the first time she attended.

“It’s a free dinner, and you get to socialize and meet people you wouldn’t normally get to meet," Estevez said. "It’s a great community.”

VAC Executive Director Nick Foster said Christmas in July is especially nice for families because not only does everyone get a meal, the children get a gift from Santa.

Children also get to have fun with temporary tattoos, beads, crayons and coloring pages at the dinner. Kilgore’s Medical Pharmacy has been a regular sponsor of Christmas in July, and this year provided tables outside the dining room to entertain the youngsters.

Community restaurants and grocery stores helped by donating food. Dinner this year included chicken, beans, salad, rolls and ice cream sandwiches for the 240 place settings. Volunteers helped serve food and carried milk and lemonade to the tables for people who needed a hand.

Before the event even began, $10,000 to $11,000 had been raised through donations and raffle ticket purchases. This year’s fundraising goal is $20,000, which still can be met; raffle tickets remain on sale until July 26.

Raffle prizes include two tickets to the Columbia Entertainment Company, a basketball signed by Frank Haith and a football signed by Gary Pinkel.

The money from this event helps the VAC operate from day to day. Foster said the organization deals with basic needs such as health, employment, electricity and housing.

“Christmas in July helps raise awareness that the needs we seek to meet around the holidays are needs that exist all year, and it serves as a reminder of that,” Foster said.

Supervising editor is Katie Moritz.

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