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Haskell Santa, Angel Tree bring Christmas to children

LAWRENCE, Kan. - The Christmas season is full of joy, kindness and presents, but it can be difficult for students in college.

Those with children often find it hard to come up with money to buy presents, even with extra jobs. Thanks to the Angel Tree at Haskell Indian Nations University, the children and in some cases, grandchildren of students will have a Merry Christmas.

Hundreds of presents were purchased by Haskell employees to assure that no child went without a present and each was one requested by the parents or the child. There were no generic gifts under this Angel Tree.

"We had forty-seven sponsors this year," Wilma Teton, Angel Tree volunteer, said. Several organizations came together to make Christmas 2000 special.

"What was nice is that the kids made lists and then the sponsors bought those gifts. ... What the kids will get is what they had specifically asked for. The sponsors purchased every item that were on the gift cards and then some," she explained.

Other organizations joined in with gift-giving projects and for one evening, children took center stage at the university.

This is the third year of the Angel Tree at Haskell and, thanks to the efforts of those who co-sponsor the event, it has been a success that has brought smiles to not only the small faces of those who met with Santa, but to those who provided the dinner and gifts for them as well.

Volunteers from the Interfaith Council prepared a dinner for students and their families Dec. 8. Although many of the presents will be taken home by students to give to their children, there were plenty of students and children who took part in the evening's festivities.

The student union building overflowed with laughing children and parents. Organizers dashed from one task to make it a memorable evening for everyone present.

As Christmas carols boomed over loud speakers, Barbara Tucker, sponsor for the Off-Campus Club, paused long enough to comment. "We coordinated some of the gifts for the children. We got some of the gifts. When the children and the parents come, we will get the children and the presents together. We are providing gifts for the students of off-campus children. Facilities got toys for us from the Toy Bowl."

Tucker explained that the Toy Bowl was a championship football game between junior high school teams in Lawrence. Admission to the game was an unwrapped toy. She said facilities workers at Haskell arranged for some of the toys to be given to Haskell as gifts for the children of students.

She said other gifts came from Haskell employees and staff. "Last year we had about 150 here, this year it looks like there may be more. It's a team effort."

Bags of candy and fruit were given to children when they visited Santa and film was donated to take pictures of each child as they sat with Santa. It took more than a dozen of Santa's helpers just to bring in the presents!

This year's Santa was Student Senate President Walter Ahhaitty. As the last plate was emptied, a drum began beating, Santa danced into the student union to cheers of his small fans. As he danced down the center aisle, children with shining eyes laughed and pointed, jumping out of their chairs.

Before Santa had a chance to get to his seat in front of the huge fireplace, children were waiting, clamoring to talk to Santa. When the name of each child was called, their reactions kept adults hooting with laughter.

Some smaller children were willing to climb over anything that got in their way to join the jolly Kiowa elf. Others needed a little more persuasion. Children, fearless at pow wows with the color and grandeur of traditional regalia, stopped dead in their tracks as they eyed the red-velvet-garbed Santa.

Although some were persuaded to join him, others threw themselves into their parent's laps, refusing to commit themselves to such a strange-looking man. Apparently a picture of Santa was a completely different prospect than the apparition who confronted them with his jolly Ho, Ho, Ho's. Many parents just shook their heads and laughed, others found themselves carrying their child to Santa. Some children looked like they had been picked as human sacrifices to some evil entity.

In the end though Santa Walter was able to change even the most frightened child's mind as he spoke to them and encouraged them to smile and accept their gift. The end of the evening found even the most Santa-phobic child willing to at least approach him, clutching their gifts.

Children weren't the only ones who walked away from the Angel Tree with gifts. Parents, concerned about getting presents for their children, received a gift that will stay with them - the knowledge their children are loved and cherished not only by their parents and families, but by loving strangers who took the time to make Christmas memorable for children they had never met.