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The Lima Rotary Special Needs Christmas Party

Every December, Lima Rotarians host a Christmas party for children with special needs. And get this – it’s been happening since 1917. For more than 100 years, the Lima Rotary Special Needs Christmas Party has been celebrating children with disabilities, giving them a unique holiday experience. The party has certainly evolved since 1917, and today it includes entertainment, food, a visit with Santa Claus, and a personalized gift for each child.

Esther Baldridge has been involved in planning the party since 1996. For the tenth year now, she is the Chairperson for the Rotary Special Needs Christmas Party. I sat down with Esther to learn more about the party – here’s what she had to say.

1. Can you tell me about the party’s history?

In 1917, the Lima Rotary formed the Crippled Children’s Committee. In addition to providing a Christmas party, Rotary was involved in purchasing wheelchairs and other adaptive equipment for children with disabilities. At its peak, there were 175 children who attended. Today, it is usually attended by 50-75 children.

2. What’s the best part of the party, in your opinion?

It is very rewarding to see the leaders of our community come together to make a special day for a group of children with special needs. Whether it is having a conversation, helping a child eat lunch, or just making sure a child feels safe, Rotarians are actively engaged.

Every so often, the party opens a door for major intervention in a child’s life. One year, our Rotarian saw a need for a new wheelchair. That Rotarian paid for the new wheelchair, since other funds were not available. Another year, the child’s home had burned down the night before the party. The Rotarian found the child and took him to the party. That same Rotarian found a place for the family to live on a temporary basis and raised money to help the family get back on their feet. The party provides an avenue for miracles to happen.

3. How are children invited?

We print and deliver invitations to each child at school. The children then fill out wish lists for Christmas. Every Rotarian is assigned a wish list, and they go out and shop for the child.

4. Where does party funding come from?

The Rotary Foundation has a designated fund established by Peter Hulsken and his wife, Libby. Peter acted as Santa for 25 years and was so touched by the good work being done that he and his wife donated stocks and securities valued at $40,000. The interest earned on this account is used to fund the party.

We also have very generous donors. Roger Rhodes owns the local Arby’s and Tim Horton’s, and he donates roast beef sandwiches and various treats. Mel Williams with the Old Barn Out Back donates macaroni and cheese. Carl Berger, of Superior Wholesale, donates paper products. The Rotary Foundation provides drinks.

5. Tell us about the 2019 party!

It’s December 14 from 11:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. This year, the entertainment will include time with superheroes, crafts, face painting, balloon animals and listening to a drumline. Children will be able to make musical instruments during craft time, so they can join the drumline. For children with sensory issues, there will also be a quiet place with story time. Families will also receive a fruit basket this year.


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