Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Harold B. Jarrett American Legion Post in Salisbury treats special needs elementary school students from Rowan County to a very special Christmas party every year.
Forty-seven students from Millbridge Elementary, Shive Elementary, Overton Elementary and Elizabeth Hanford Dole Elementary attended the party this year.
Volunteers from the post dedicated their time and effort to purchase and wrap gifts, decorate the building, serve lunch and facilitate the event.
“I don’t have a problem getting volunteers,” said Phyllis Richardson, who coordinated the event with Harry Garwood.
Richardson has been involved with the party for more than 20 years, and Garwood has been involved for 15.
Students enjoyed a puppet show by Susan VandeWeghe of Mountain Marionettes and a hot dog lunch from the American Legion post. After lunch, Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus visited and presented each child with a gift.
VandeWeghe has been enthralling the students with her marionettes at this party for more than a decade.
The children watched with wide eyes and giggled as the puppets danced, skated and swung across the room.
“I love the way the kids react to the puppets,” VandeWeghe said. “Kids that won’t go close to anything will hug a puppet.”
Walt and Kim Kincaid attended as Santa and Mrs. Claus. They have played the jolly duo for 24 years, but this is their first time at the American Legion’s Christmas party.
The pair delighted the group as they called each child by name to give them a gift purchased specifically for them. Happy chaos broke out as each child tore into their packages, finding dolls, trains, action figures and balls.
Funding for the event is partially secured through different fundraising projects the post does throughout the year. The men sponsor a golf tournament and they sell barbecue chicken every year to support the party.
“We put up part of the money and the Legion puts up part,” said Richardson.
Before his death, Sheriff Kevin Auten’s father was heavily involved in planning the event. The sheriff began attending the party years ago and continues to attend as a way to honor his father and other veterans who continue to serve those around them.
“I deal with so much bad stuff — negative things happening to good people. I love coming here and seeing the joy on the kids’ faces and seeing the fun that they have, knowing that their lives aren’t easy,” Auten said.