For the second consecutive year, Navy Mass Communications Spc. Harry Gordon received a free, live Christmas tree at the Enlisted Spouses’ Club’s 10th Annual Children’s Holiday Party.
“This is what I like about Fort Meade,” said Gordon, who works for DoD News at the Defense Media Activity. “It’s very community oriented. That’s what it’s all about.”
Gordon was among the first 50 families to arrive at the four-hour event on Saturday at Pershing Hill Elementary School. As a result, he was eligible to receive a Christmas tree from Trees for Troops, which partnered with ESC for the event.
Trees for Troops is a program of the Christmas SPIRIT Foundation that provides free, farm-grown Christmas trees to service members from all military branches and their families through donations, sponsorships and grants, according to the organization’s website.
About 1,084 parents and children attended the holiday party.
“We broke records,” said Mavi Conner, ESC vice president and organizer of the event.
More people attended this year’s party and more people volunteered to help than ever before, Conner said.
“We worked harder to make sure everything was perfect,” she said. “Being able to support the community means a lot to us.”
Corvias Military Living provided a magician, face painter and balloon artist. The Officers’ Spouses’ Club, John Hopkins Medicine and Fairway Mortgage Company donated funds to defray costs.
Mission BBQ provided lunch for volunteers.
At the start of the event, which began at noon, participants stood in line outside Pershing Hill, where they were greeted by The Grinch and Santa Claus. Old St. Nick arrived aboard Fort Meade Fire Engine No. 452.
Inside the school, Santa posed for photographs with children. Youngsters also participated in holiday arts and crafts projects and games such as bean toss and miniature bowling.
Lines formed for glittering washable tattoos and at a hair station where young girls waited to have their hair styled with tiaras by local hairdressers who volunteered for the event.
Garrison Command Sgt. Maj. Brian S. Cullen handed gifts to children that were donated by Operation Homefront.
“Enjoy the holiday,” said Cullen, who attended the event with his wife, Connie, an adviser to ESC. “Get out and spend time with one another.”
In addition, several students from the International Thespian Society at Arundel High School dressed as princesses from Walt Disney movies.
Bec Crow, 17, dressed as Snow White in a bright blue and gold gown. She signed autographs for little girls and posed for selfies.
“The kids love princesses and it’s a great way to bring in the holiday,” said Bec, a senior. “Everyone is happy with the holiday spirit.”
Caleigh Shade, who was crowned Miss Maryland Teen USA in October, was invited by ESC and stopped by to spread holiday cheer.
“They’re adorable, and it makes my day,” said Shade, 18, of the children who marveled at her deep burgundy dress and white pageant sash.
Shade said the Teen USA pageant has a partnership with military installations for winners to visit during the holiday season.
“We love to help out whenever we can,” she said.
Children also participated in a “Star Wars” Jedi Academy, adapted from the same attraction at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Florida.
Husbands of ESC members dressed as characters from the movie and taught children how to use a laser light saber. They even sparred with the youngsters while parents took photos on their cellphones.
Members of the 501st Legion Vader’s First, a worldwide “Star Wars” costuming organization of “Star Wars” fans that promotes interest in film, also helped out with the Jedi Academy.
“I like ‘Star Wars.’ They made me practice how to fight with my [saber],” said Devin Eborn, 7, a second-grader at Pershing Hill.
Devin came with his mother Celina Eborn and Damien Johnson, 15, a freshman at Annapolis High School.
Celina Eborn, wife of Hurley Eborn, a Marine, said she was impressed with the holiday party and appreciated being one of the families to receive a free Christmas tree.
“This is what the season is all about — being with family and friends and sharing the spirit of love and giving,” she said.