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Kiwanis share Christmas spirit with area elementary school students at annual luncheon

The faint sounds of a bell ringing in the distance were followed by a hearty "Ho ho ho" before Santa Claus - clad in a bright red suit and sporting a bushy white beard - appeared on the scene. Fourth- and fifth-grade students' eyes widened and broad grins appeared on faces as old St. Nick crossed the cafeteria and settled himself on a plastic stool.

Santa Claus had arrived just in time for presents to be passed out at the annual Kiwanis and elementary-school luncheon at Mount Si High School Dec. 14. The luncheon is held by Kiwanis as a way to help at-risk or underprivileged fourth- and fifth-grade children feel special.

"It's a privilege [to attend the luncheon]," said Don Oster, member of Kiwanis. "For some [students], it's a reward."

Every year, event planners from the Kiwanis organization notify Snoqualmie Valley School District elementary-school principals of the coming event so they may select students to attend the luncheon. Each school is offered six slots for students. Each student partners with a Kiwanis member to attend the luncheon. Most principals turn the decision over to the school counselor or the individual teachers, said David Speikers, vice president of Kiwanis.

"They really know the kids well," Speikers said of the teachers. "The teachers have the closest understanding of who might need self-confidence and understanding."

"I found out about a week ago," one fifth-grader said. "The school counselor told me I would be having lunch at the high school."

Permission to identify the students was not given.

"The teacher gave me a permission form," another fifth-grader said. "She said, 'You're going to the high school because you were selected for being good.'"

Each Kiwanis partner pays $20 to cover the cost of lunch and the bus ride, then spends $15-$20 on a present for their student partner. But it's not about the present for anyone, Speikers said.

"It's more than that," Speikers said. "It's singing Christmas carols, Santa comes ... it's really just a fun thing for the kids."

"I came ... before," said one fifth-grader. "I think it's a pretty neat program."

Before Santa arrived, the partners ate hamburger or cheeseburger lunches. Then Thomas Tilton, the high-school counselor, arrived dressed in lederhosen and carrying an Alphorn - a 9-foot long, cone-shaped wind instrument made of natural horn - and a button box, or accordion. Tilton demonstrated the Alphorn, then played Christmas songs on the button box as everyone sang along.

Then, Santa - also known as Owen Walsh, a retired optometrist of North Bend Eye Clinic - arrived and presents were passed out to the students. The children were all smiles as they went up one at a time to receive a present, then after either tearing the wrapping paper off or carefully unwrapping it, they admired their gifts.

The luncheon isn't just for the kids - it's fun for the Kiwanis members, too.

"This is one of their favorite things to do," said Joel Aune, superintendent of schools, member of Kiwanis and one of the luncheon coordinators. "They start asking in September."

In fact, only one-third of the adults were Kiwanis members. The others were recruited because they were interested in participating, Aune said.

"I get that warm, fuzzy feeling," Oster said. "It's something right, something good. I think we get more out of it than the kids."

Kiwanis meetings are held every Thursday at 7 a.m. at the clubhouse of Snoqualmie Ridge Golf Course.

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