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Legion, Auxiliary host Christmas party for disabled children

SALISBURY — The Harold B. Jarrett American Legion and its Auxiliary were hosts over the holidays for their annual Christmas party for disabled students of Rowan-Salisbury Schools.
The men and women of the legion shopped for 72 students based on a list of toys they provided.
“We shopped ‘til we dropped,” said Phyllis Richardson, auxiliary chairman for children and youth. Her counterpart among the legionnaires was Harry Garwood.
The shoppers later wrapped the gifts and filled bags with fruit, candy, coloring books and crayons.
The Christmas party was held at the Harold B. Jarrett Legion post on Lincolnton Road. Primary sponsors of the party included Cloninger Ford, Salisbury attorney William Graham and Food Lion Chairman Emeritus Ralph Ketner.
“When the children arrived, they sat in a semi-circle to watch the entertainment of so many different puppets that sang, danced and flew on the flying trapeze,” Richardson reported.
Mountain Marionettes provided the show.
“The smiles and excitement on the children’s faces were priceless,” said Kathy Costantino, a teacher assistant at Salisbury High.
The party lunch included Pinky Trexler hot dogs with all the trimmings and ice cream.
Santa Claus visited after lunch while all the children gathered around the Christmas tree. Each child received a gift from his or her list. The students were allowed to play with their presents until it was time to return to school.
The legion and auxiliary have worked together since 1978 in providing the annual party.
“It was a Christmas blessing for me to watch the joy on all the children’s faces as they were entertained by a marionette show and fellowshipped with friends during lunch,” said Julie Smith, president of the Harold B. Jarrett Auxiliary.
“But the big excitement was when Santa arrived to hand out presents.”
This past Christmas represented the biggest party to date for the legion and auxiliary. Smith thanked all who were involved.
“A Christmas party like this takes teamwork,” she said.
Wayne Kennerly, a member of the legion post, said even with all the holiday activities going on, the Christmas season doesn’t really seem to start for him until the party for the disabled students.
“Getting a gift that they asked for seems to make it an almost magic time,” Kennerly said. “… Everyone needs to see this to make their own problems seem so very small.”
Floyd Burton, also a post member, said the party is always the highlight of his year, and he never misses it.
“My granddaughter, Drew Morris, always tries to work her schedule at Lexington Hospital so she can help on this special day,” Burton said. “And the kids are so well behaved.”
Several off-duty deputies from the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office were in attendance, as was Sheriff Kevin Auten.
“Unfortunately, in law enforcement, officers deal with bad and negative things more often than positive things,” Auten said.
“The excitement and fun were in the air. These kids were so happy to be there and really enjoyed the program.”
Auten said this past Christmas had special meaning for his family because it was the first since the death last summer of his father, Gene. “I am sure he was smiling during the event, even more than the children,” Auten said.
The students attending the party gave back to their legion hosts by presenting the post with handmade ornaments.
“It was evident that this organization put forth time, thought and prayer in planning this beautiful day, which these students will keep with them for a very long time,” Costantino said.
Teacher Jtan Whisenant has been attending the parties since 1984 and said, “You should see the delight in each child’s eyes when Santa calls their name and hands them a present.”
“As a special education teacher,” she said, “I am grateful for their (the legionnaires’ and auxiliary women’s) concern for my students. As an American, I am grateful for their service to my country and their willingness to keep serving their fellow man.”
Nathan Peele, general manager for Cloninger Ford, also thanked the veterans and other sponsors for making the party possible and the students, their families and teachers, “who gave me the best Christmas gift this year.”
“This was a day I saw families, teachers, veterans and volunteers brighten up when we witnessed the excitement and joy in each of the kids,” Peele said.

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