The decibel level went off the charts Saturday afternoon as 150 children from throughout Alexandria packed the Magnolia Ballroom of the Hilton Mark Center. They delighted at the antics of Dinky the clown and received gifts from Santa Claus.
It was all part of the Annual Christmas Party for needy children sponsored by The Black Fire Service Professionals (BFSPA) of Alexandria, Inc., conducted under the guidance of Captain Thurston McClain, Alexandria Fire Department. Attendees ranged in age from toddlers to 12.
Most of the children came from city recreation centers and public housing, McClain said. "But, we don't turn any kid away. If I meet parents that need gifts I just tell them to show up," he said
"I talk to the directors at the various recreation centers and make inquires at the public housing projects. The center directors suggest certain kids and then they make arrangements to get them here," McClain said.
"We accept donations of toys and gifts as well as money. Then we go out and buy gifts with the money. If we have gifts left over we will give them to needy families," he said.
Others working with McClain on the annual project were Battalion Chief Chet Helms, Captain John Morehead, and Para Medics Lisa Jones and Jeanine Robinson. Dorothy White, Virginia Cooperative Extension, and volunteers from Alexandria's Recreation, Parks and Cultural Affairs Department join the effort with fire department personnel, according to McClain.
"This is my third year in this project. But, I try to work behind the scenes," Helms said. "And, I coordinate all the toys," White said.
Portraying Santa was John Morehead, III, who was also participating for his third year. "I don't know about next year. I just got my degree in electrical engineering from Alabama A&M University and I start a new job in Georgia at the beginning of the year," Morehead said.
In addition to the toys and clown entertainment, the children were treated to a luncheon of hamburgers, hot dogs, salads, cookies and soft drinks.
"Sometimes I think the kids get a bigger kick out of the clowns than Santa," McClain said, as a herd rushed forward from their tables when Dinky asked for volunteers.