Santa came to Pine Bluff on Saturday to listen to the wishes of children and to give out goodies.
Two different events featured the jolly old elf. At the Bloom Tennis Center, a long line stretched from the door nearly to the street as parents, grandparents and children came out to the Santa in the Park event. Sponsored by the Pine Bluff Police Department AmeriCorps Program, the activity featured a toy giveaway and visits with Santa Claus.
For many parents, the gathering was a godsend.
“I just wanted to get my kids here so that they could enjoy what’s going on today,” said Sheneta Girley, who stood in line with four children. “Every little bit helps.”
Barbara Carter, who came with three of her grandchildren, said she also appreciated the support.
“Christmas is going to be light so any help they can give is a blessing,” she said.
Taniya Austin came with her child and several other children.
“I’m a foster parent so I came over to try to get some things for the kids,’ she said. “I’ve had kids come into care two days before Christmas and I might be stuck trying to make Christmas for them.”
As dozens stood waiting for their chance to get a toy and to talk to Santa, free bag lunches were passed out. The meal included a hot dog, chips, Rice Crispy snack and a drink.
At one point, Santa come out to greet those standing in line, shouting, “Ho, Ho, Ho. Merry Christmas, everybody!”
Wearing the traditional red and white suit and hat, and sporting a long white beard, Santa instantly became a kid magnet. Dozens of children swarmed around and hugged him.
Inside the building, Lt. Shirley Warrior of the Pine Bluff Police Department was busy ensuring that each child got a gift. While rain dampened planned outside activities, it didn’t dampen the goal of the event: to show care for the community.
“This is our second year,” she said. “We were at Belair Drive last year. We are giving back to the community. AmeriCorps cadets collected these gifts from the community.”
Besides getting toys, residents had a chance to enter a drawing to win one of four bikes.
Neighborhood police officers Shanee Patrick, Princess Danzy and Marquii McLemore along with AmeriCorps cadets helped out at the event.
“It’s a way to help the kids in the community by giving them gifts and food,” Patrick said. “We are giving back through community-oriented policing,”
Danzy said the event also shows people that police officers are here to help while McLemore said coming out to help the community is important.
“Everything starts with the kids,” he said. “If we reach out to the kids, we can have a positive influence.”
Just a few miles away, another outreach to children was going on at the Governor Mike Huckabee Delta Rivers Nature Center. Christmas on the Bayou was held at the center in Jefferson County Regional Park.
On Saturday, children got to enjoy free nature-related educational material, candy and a photo with Santa. They also got a chance to take part in one of Santa’s favorite sports — archery — said Maurice Jackson, an education specialist at the center.
During the free archery activity, children spent time practicing their archery skills.
“We try to do something different every weekend,” Jackson said. “This is an opportunity for kids to come out and get more familiar with archery and help build their self-esteem so they will be more confident.”
In the nature center lobby, Santa and Mrs. Claus sat in front of a towering, colorfully decorated Christmas tree waiting for young visitors to arrive.
“It’s the first year for the Christmas on the Bayou program and we hope to do it annually,” Jackson said, adding that nature center visitors could sign up to win a 14-foot boat with trailer. The giveaway, which ends Dec. 21, is part of the program sponsored by Alweld Boats of Lonsdale, Cycle & Marine Supercenter of Pine Bluff and the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.
Kristina Knight of Monticello smiled as she watched her 7-year-old son Isaiah take a photo with Santa. She learned about the event from an email sent by the center.
“I emailed my mom and told her it might be a good idea for us to take him and let him shoot a bow and see Santa Claus,” she said.
Isaiah may have been inspired by the boat on display in the lobby because as he sat on Santa’s lap, he asked for a train set, a toy car and a boat.
Anyone who is interested in winning the boat can sign up each time they visit the nature center. The drawing is scheduled to be held at 4 p.m. Dec. 21. For more information about activities at the Delta River Nature Center, visit www.deltarivers.com or call 870-534-0011.