Despite the unseasonably balmy skies of recent weeks, the Christmas Spirit is alive and well at the Community Arts Center, 220 W. Fourth St., whose volunteer corps is in the thick of preparing for the fifth annual "Christmas Spectacular."
All-in-all, 40 to 50 members of the corps - which is made up of the theater's ushers - are expected to be involved in this year's show.
"Christmas Spectacular," which is a children's event, will be held at 1:30 p.m. Saturday.
Each year since 2006, the event has consisted of a child-friendly performer, a Christmas movie and a bag full of piles and piles of donated gifts.
This year's performer is Steve Hulslander, a local musician and actor, who'll lead a sing-along that will be followed by a movie that will be followed by more singing that will be followed by a guest appearance by Santa, who is played by Rick Needler.
Skip Hunsinger, who coordinates the event, said, "I'm not sure if we've had another Santa or not. Rick's been doing it a few years."
The Uptown Music Collective will open and close the show by performing holiday tunes.
Every child who gets a ticket to the show gets a gift. The gift is typically a collection of coupons and treats from local vendors like Kellogg, Utz, Dunkin Donuts, Leclerc and more; and toy items that the volunteer corps members shop for all year like crayons and coloring books.
"They'll buy things at the end of the holiday season when they're on sale, and we store them all year," Hunsinger said.
Twenty randomly selected children will get a larger gift. The first year the volunteer corps put this show together, they gave away bicycles. It doesn't seem quite right to let this year's special gift out of the proverbial Santa sack. But it's a good one.
The best thing about "Christmas Spectacular?" It's free.
The Spectacular is paid for by donations from community members and businesses, and the Volunteer Corps runs a raffle each year. This year, the raffle is a basket full of goodies totaling in value at $2,125, including treats such as an authentic American flag with 46 stars, a painting by David Armstrong, gift cards and more.
There's a poster with a list of the raffle basket's contents and instructions for how to grab a ticket in the lobby of the CAC. The winner is drawn within the first few minutes of the show. Hunsinger said last year's winner was in the building.
Attendees, children and adults alike, need tickets. The tickets are divided into age categories with "Babes in Arms" tickets are for children age 3 and younger. There are separate tickets for young kids from 4 to 7, kids ages 7 and up, and adults. The tickets are divided this way so that the volunteers know which kids get what sack of goodies. There are different gifts for the babes-in-arms.
Hunsinger reminisced about a party from his boyhood at the venue, formerly known as the Capitol Theater, that cost 12 cents to enter. It was put on by the AFL-CIO and each child received a box of hard candy.
Back in 2006, that memory led him to pitch the idea for a similar event to Rob Steele, the Community Arts Center's executive director.
A note of incredulity snuck into his voice when he recalled the generosity of his fundraising efforts the first year.
He said, "I picked 125 people out of the phone book and called them. Most of them gave something." He recalled a specific case of annual donors, "Two women, who say they were poor as church mice, and the party was all the Christmas they had, each donate $500 each year. They do it because they can and because they remember how special it was."
He raised $12,000 by calling just 125 people and he said that those same folks continue to give.
Hunsinger coordinates the efforts that surround "Christmas Spectacular," but earlier this year, Bea Hilliard, who was his right-hand woman with the organizational efforts, moved to Florida. Hunsinger said this year, CAC House Manager Jill Woodhead, stepped in.
He said, "We couldn't have done it without her."
A limited number of tickets remain and may be bought by visiting the CAC box office from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday or 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays, calling 326-2424 or visiting www.caclive.com.