With the seventh annual Christmas Spectacular nearing, the Community Arts Center is beginning to feel a bit like Santa's workshop. With around 1,200 children's gift bags to stuff, CAC volunteers certainly have their hands full. According to Jill Woodhead, CAC house manager, the group expects between 1,500 and 1,800 people to attend the family-oriented holiday event.
The Christmas Spectacular offers a movie, a singalong and visits and photos with Santa and Mrs. Claus as well as a goodie bag for each child and some special surprise giveaways. The event begins at noon Dec. 14, with doors opening at 11:30.
"All of this is free of charge. You do have to have a ticket to come," Woodhead said.
Tickets were given away Nov. 30 at the CAC box office.
From raising money to collecting donations to putting together the gift bags, volunteers run the show.
"Everything is raised by private donation," Woodhead said. "Without the community's support - individuals and community businesses - there's no way (it would happen). The show is anywhere from $8,000 to $10,000 a year to put on."
The event's success can be attributed to its founder, Skip Hunsinger, who passed away this year. Hunsinger modeled the Christmas Spectacular after an event he attended years ago at the CAC.
"He said when he used to attend this event when he was a child, that it was such a thrill," Woodhead said.
Simple gifts like a free movie showing and some candy brightened the holidays for Hunsinger, who also wanted to bring families together. Woodhead described Hunsinger as "the driving force behind this," adding, "We've actually renamed the Christmas Spectacular because of him. Instead of it being the Community Arts Center Christmas Spectacular, it's the Community Arts Center Skip Hunsinger Christmas Spectacular."
The gifts, as always, are sorted by age group.
"For the smaller children ... we call them 'babes in arms,' those children will receive something like a small stuffed animal. The older children, who are usually about 3 up to 12, they receive a gift bag that will have a variety of things," Woodhead said. A typical gift bag for older children contains items like pencils, notebooks, craft items, snacks donated by Kellogg's and Frito Lay, a gift certificate for a local business and small trinkets or toys. Gift bags are a combination of items donated and those purchased with community donations.
Families will be encouraged to join the festive mood with music and a singalong hosted by students from Uptown Music Collective. Santa will visit with Mrs. Claus to present gifts and to pose for photos in front of the CAC's Christmas tree.
"Santa will come out on stage and he is actually the one who gives away the big presents. After the show, we stay open until everybody gets their picture taken with him."
Much like Santa's elves, CAC volunteers will begin planning again as soon as this year's event is over and the gifts are given out.
"It really is a year-long event," Woodhead said. "Once this event is over ... we'll start immediately planning for next year."