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While most of her friends remained nestled snug in their beds before the break of dawn, Kaylin Newland experienced her first visit to Santa Claus’ workshop.
Non-believers might say the 4-year-old was merely among nearly 200 volunteers at the loading of gifts Saturday during the annual distribution day for the Columbus Firemen’s Cheer Fund.
But for Kaylin, the holiday ambiance was far too magical to be anything but the genuine Spirit of Christmas.
Arriving shortly after 6 a.m. Saturday, Kaylin and her parents, Jeremy and Brittney Newland, were among the first group of eight vehicles allowed inside the warehouse at the Doug Otto United Way Center.
When distribution began at 7 a.m., almost 50 vehicles were lined up around the building at 1531 13th St.
While her father was dressed up in a conventional Santa suit and artificial cotton beard, Kaylin quickly spotted Kris Kringle — with a real white beard and historically accurate Santa suit — laughing with twinkling eyes and dimples so merry.
“Santa has kind of outdone me this year,” Jeremy Newland admitted.
As Kaylin smiled and waved back at Santa and Mrs. Claus, she could hear Christmas music drifting from above, with each vertical support beam adorned with multi-colored garlands and other festive decorations.
Large and small elves, all dressed in red sweaters, black trousers and red Santa hats, seemed to be bustling about everywhere. But Kaylin could see all of them were smiling and laughing as each elf carried out a specific job.
As the Newlands’ truck turned the first corner, Kaylin saw row-upon-row of large green-and-white holiday boxes, festively illustrated with a holiday drawing, stacked up to her left.
But then, what to Kaylin’s wondering eyes should appear, but a long row of sparkling toys that included a Power Wheels fire engine, a toy drum set, miniature basketball goals and several shiny bicycles.
The little girl smiled as she then beheld a vision of sweet treats, hot chocolate and coffee for volunteers.
And then, in a twinkling during their final stop, Kaylin spotted two of Kris Kringle’s most recognizable local helpers — Sam and Fran Simmermaker — ensuring that each child from income-eligible families also would receive a sack of fruit, candy and other holiday treats.
Kaylin knew exactly why she was there with her mom and dad.
“We’re going to deliver presents to other kids, because some kids don’t have much,” Kaylin said.
Over the next three hours, 1,300 of those children would receive toys, clothing and books from Cheer Fund volunteers.
In the area of Ninth and California streets, a single working mother with two toddler boys said she couldn’t help but smile from ear-to-ear as the gifts were delivered to her home.
With an income of just $176 a week, the young mother spends most of her money on diapers, wipes and other infant needs.
The grandmother in the house said she was delighted as one of the larger boxes was opened, and the family started moving gifts under the tree.
A few blocks away, near 11th and Union streets, a delivery was made to another single working mother with two older children, ages 12 and 7.
While Saturday was her only day off from work last week, she too said she was facing difficulties in making ends meet.
After signing up for Cheer Fund assistance for the first time, she expressed confidence that her sons would enjoy a merry Christmas this year.
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