The children gathered at the front of the hall, and the ends of the long rows of tables, the linens laid in Christmas red green for the parents looking on, as magician Roger Lindsey began his act.
“This is a book from Santa,” he told the children, cracking the book only to have it catch flame and puff smoke. “It has the names of the children on the bad list.”
Lindsey would go on to hypnotize a rabbit and lead the room in a round of “Jingle Bells” as the opening act for Santa, with a bit of spoiling by the Grinch.
It was all part of the festivities at the annual Night of Giving Tuesday night, a joint presentation by the nonprofit Live Hope Laugh and the Westminster Elks Lodge, which hosted the event. It’s a festive meal and celebration for families with children dealing with chronic diseases, with gift donations to families in need who may be struggling to balance medicine and making merry.
“A lot of them have lost their jobs. Some of them have kids in and out of the hospital, which makes it virtually impossible for them to work,” said Live Hope Laugh President Catherine Ross. “It’s a tough time of year.”
Ross launched Live Hope Laugh in 2010 with her daughter Alexis, a type 1 diabetic and then a Westminster High School Student. They had just three families they supported during the holidays and delivered donated gifts door to door.
“Now we have about 30 families,” Ross said.
One of those families are the Pascoes — Irene, her husband Rob, and children, Rob, Noah, Joshua and Emma, who are 16, 13 and 10. They have been a part of a Night of Giving since the beginning.
“We feel like this is family to us, these people are our family,” Irene said. “They are lifesavers, really.”
“They are like family to us,” Caroline added. “We’ve actually formed a friendship with her and her husband and they will come out and help at different events that we have and volunteer all day.”
It was the third year the Elks hosted the event, which has been a growing production, according to lodge member Greg Ackerman said.
“I’s getting bigger and bigger every year,” he said. “I have about 40 volunteers from our lodge here; husbands, wives. A lot of people bring their kids. You just feel that true Christmas spirit when you see youngsters like this. The kids are starting to get to know us and were starting to get to know them. It’s like a big family.”
That family feeling is by design, Ross said, one of the goals of the even being to build community.
“We encourage people who donate to actually come out and see who they are giving to,” she said. “It’s not like they are just handing us a toy or handing us money, they are actually seeing where their gift is going, to meet the child.”
One of those donors was Cyndi Simanski, who came out with her husband and grandchildren.
“This is my first time and I am so impressed,” she said, “Watching the kids being so happy and just having and fun — I wish it was on a weekend so they didn’t have to worry about waking up and going to school.”
Simanski said that she often sees people online asking where they can donate to, and she just thinks of Ross and Live Hope Laugh.